Fresno Unified says teacher contract talks at impasse; union disagrees

The Fresno BeeFebruary 13, 2014 

Over the objections of the teachers' union, Fresno Unified School District on Thursday unilaterally declared an impasse in negotiations for a new labor contract.

The announcement comes after months of disputed talks between the Fresno Teachers Association and district officials.

"We believe we need outside help to bring us together," Superintendent Michael Hanson said. "We still are quite far apart in a couple of very big areas that are incredibly important to the district."

The district will file a request for impasse with the Public Employment Relations Board, which will decide whether the two sides are at impasse or must return to the bargaining table. If impasse is declared, then a mediator will be appointed.

During a negotiating session with the union Thursday afternoon, Hanson unveiled the latest and final proposal that includes an 8.2% salary increase over the next three years, a plan to add 30 extra minutes of daily class time for a selected number of schools, lowering class sizes to 24 students in kindergarten through third grade, and an increase in funding for employees health care.

But after 20 collective bargaining sessions and more than 140 hours, Fresno Unified officials said the district and the union have reached a stalemate over key issues that include employee salaries and the district's proposal to lengthen the school day next year.

Hanson said adding an extra 30 minutes of daily class time is a key development that will give students more time to learn. The additional minutes are equivalent to 18 more days each year -- or more than half a school year by the time kids finish sixth grade.

"We think that's a huge positive and we pay the teachers for those extra hours," Hanson said.

Union officials called the district's actions to announce an impasse an indication that Fresno Unified is not willing to work with the union. Union officials, who proposed an 18.2% salary increase, said they were willing to counter-propose during Thursday's session, but school officials did not accept any counter-proposals.

"We are disappointed in the school board decision to shut down talks with the teachers," said Eva Ruiz, president of Fresno Teachers Association.

With bargaining dates still on the calendar, Ruiz said the union hopes school officials will reconsider the decision to declare impasse.

Said Ruiz, "We completely believe if we would continue the hard work at the bargaining table we could have reached an agreement that would best fit the employees and students of our district."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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