Deadline looming in Madera Unified's contract talks with teachers

The Fresno BeeAugust 12, 2013 

Madera Unified officials have 10 days to negotiate with the local teachers union over a contract agreement that’s held both sides at an impasse for months.

A report from a three-member fact-finding committee intended to assess the embattled negotiating process was submitted Monday, giving both parties just over a week to find a resolution.

The head of Madera Unified’s teachers union said its members are ready to strike unless school administrators negotiate new solutions.

Teachers will hold an after-school rally Tuesday to protest district recommendations, which David Holder, Madera Unified Teachers Association president, says include a cap on medical payments and mandated teacher training without pay.

Holder said between 40 and 80 hours of proposed unpaid training to get teachers ready to for the new Common Core State Standards could cost teachers between $1,200 and $2,400 each.

The district’s most recent offer, he said, also includes a provision giving administrators more power to transfer teachers to different schools. Holder said teachers will likely strike if the district doesn’t amend the proposals. He declined to say when a strike would begin.

“In total, it’s bad,” he said. “There will be no point in having an association because they will have stripped out all the remaining protections.”

Ed Gonzalez, Madera Unified’s new superintendent who started Aug. 1, said districts have faced tough choices since 2008, as ongoing budget cuts from the state have forced schools to shrink expenses.

He said he’s “optimistic” renewed talks this school year will prevent a strike.

“A strike would not be in the best interest of the kids and no one would win,” he said. “That certainly would be something where the adults could not come together and do what they needed to do.”

Talks that have gone on for months stalled earlier this year when a state mediator was called in to help find a compromise. After those negotiations fell through, Gonzalez said the fact-finding committee took over to assess the situation.

District officials did not respond to requests for the committee’s report submitted Monday.

Trustee Maria Velarde-Garcia said she intends to support the conclusions the committee recommends, but declined to say whether the board will likely make concessions.

Another trustee, Lynn Cogdill, said the district can afford to pay more for insurance and teacher salaries following voters’ approval of Proposition 30. The Legislature’s green light on Gov. Jerry Brown’s local control funding formula, a plan that gives more state dollars to low-income districts, will also give the Madera Unified additional spending money.

“This trustee supports those teachers 100%, and if they have to go on strike, I will be marching on that line, ” he said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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