No deal yet for teachers

Gilroy
– Despite hopes by both teachers and the Gilroy Unified School
District, neither side was able to agree on a tentative contract
agreement Thursday. Negotiations hit a snag after the Gilroy
Teachers Association decided it needed its unit members to discuss
a variety of options.
Gilroy – Despite hopes by both teachers and the Gilroy Unified School District, neither side was able to agree on a tentative contract agreement Thursday. Negotiations hit a snag after the Gilroy Teachers Association decided it needed its unit members to discuss a variety of options.

Both groups have been negotiating since last summer, meeting more than 30 times this year, to reach a new contract after the previous agreement expired June 30, 2004.

“There aren’t big rocks for us to turn over anymore,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Linda Piceno. “We were pretty hopeful that we could have wrapped it up (Thursday).”

Both sides crunched salary equations, calculating various salary increases with the rising cost of health benefits, trying to reach an adequate formula.

“We have four options,” said Michelle Nelson, president of the GTA. “Now, we want teachers to tell us what they want.”

Teachers meet Monday at Rod Kelley School to discuss their options before sending Nelson back to negotiations Tuesday.

This marks the first time a salary formula will be used in the district, Piceno said. The salary formula the district is proposing includes a salary increase in combination with the cost of health and welfare benefits.

“It’s a real change in how we do business and how we look at (employees),” she said.

With a salary formula in place, unit members know up front that it’s a set amount. It shows that they are valued by the district, Piceno explained.

Nelson described a series of four options teachers have to choose from – all various combinations of salary increases and health benefit packages.

“If we get an increase of $200 a month in salary, but health care costs increase $200 – that’s a wash,” Nelson explained.

Once agreed upon, the new three-year contract is slated to last through the 2006–07 school year, with this past year counting as the first.

According to Nelson, the district is offering a 4.0 percent salary increase, however, that figure may not cover the cost of healthcare premiums if teachers have Blue Cross health insurance over Kaiser.

Close to 60 percent of teachers have Kaiser, which is used by the district to calculate the base rate.

“We’re trying to represent everybody and that’s difficult,” Nelson said.

Depending on where teachers are on the salary schedule and what their family looks like on paper, they may not benefit from each of the various possibilities.

“Whatever choice you make, someone’s not going to benefit,” Piceno said. “It’s a real challenge for them to come up with a proposal (that fits everybody.)”

According to December 2004 figures, teachers in GUSD make the least amount of money on average – about $54,449 – after making benefit adjustments, than the nine other school districts it competes with for jobs including Milpitas Unified, Morgan Hill Unified and East Side High School District.

Another factor preventing the two from signing off on agreement is the issue of teacher evaluations.

‘We’re stuck on that one point,” Nelson said.

District walkthroughs by administrators are not the problem, she said.

Some teachers remain wary of other teachers participating in site walkthroughs where they sit and observe another teacher for five minute intervals. They believe the district may be using these observations as part of their employee evaluations.

According to Piceno, the district has conceded and will not have teachers participate in district walkthroughs.

Teachers will still participate in site walkthroughs. Piceno does not expect that evaluations will be a problem once salary is finalized.

Once a new contract is in place, either side can reopen sections of the contract for discussion, but neither side is looking to start talking again soon.

“I’m hoping that we won’t start until at least January,” Piceno said about negotiations for the 2007 school year.

In future negotiations, the district would like to see substantial changes in sections referencing safety and class size.

The district also wants to discuss the wording in the creative freedom clause, after teachers were allowed to participate in a Day of Silence protest during classroom time April 13.GUSD is looking to protect classroom instructional time by preventing teachers from participating in similar events in the future.

Nelson was unsure of a possible timeline for these discussions.

Despite the lack of the agreement Thursday, Nelson believes that negotiations have been fair.

“I agree with Linda Piceno, we’ve put a lot of work into this,” Nelson said.

With the end of the school year approaching, time is running out to come to a tentative agreement before summer hits.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to vote,” Nelson said.

Should negotiations go well Tuesday, teachers would most likely vote to ratify the contract June 15.

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