Contract talks between the Fresno Teachers Association union and Fresno Unified School District have spanned more than 10 months and been marked by contentious discussions over teachers' salary, benefits and hours now headed into a second mediation phase.
Rounds of discussions stalled in February with both sides still quarreling over proposed pay and health plan increases and the district's cornerstone proposal to add extra minutes to the class day at 40 schools over two years.
They've shaken hands on only a few issues, like how teachers are evaluated and policies that affect early childhood teachers.
But they've yet to agree on some of the biggest budgetary issues, which will now be sorted out by a three-person fact-finding committee that will offer a nonbinding recommendation. After that is released, the district will have the option to impose an offer. Teachers will have the option to strike.
The union already has expressed its willingness to strike if need be. Even so, Superintendent Michael Hanson says he is not concerned.
Any imposed offer would not hurt them financially, he told The Bee's editorial board Tuesday.
Fresno Unified officials say their proposal is fair, and better than many offers from districts across the state.
Under the district plan, K-3 class sizes would shrink to an average of 24 students. Extra pay for teachers who oversee sports or after-school programs would double — and triple in the elementary grades. Pay would jump by 8.2% over three years, and teachers would get an extra $500 for their annual health care package.
"We've tracked districts around our area who have been starting to settle, and as I said in my press conference last week, no one has come close to our total package of what we're offering," Hanson said.
The union's most recent contract ended in June 2012. Because a new one wasn't signed by the time the previous one expired, teachers have continued operating under a years-old agreement.
Now, they're hoping for smaller class sizes in all grades and raises totaling 15.5% over two years — plus a 2.7% bonus for the 2012-13 school year — which would mark the first time since 2008 that they've seen an increase to their salary scale.
Adding $1,025 to each teachers' health plan — raising the district's contribution from $13,649 to $14,674 annually — is also part of their plan. Employees currently pay about $2,880 each year for a family health plan.
Rhonnie Tinsley, FTA executive director, said investing about $1,000 more in employee plans would help bring the district's contribution up to prerecession levels.
"That's what they did back in 2008. We think they could do it again," she said.
There are millions of dollars separating the two deals. But estimates from each side tell only part of the story.
Fresno officials say their numbers estimate salary increases for all employees: if teachers get a raise, so do other employees, said spokeswoman Micheline Golden, who said other union contracts include a "me-too" clause spelling out their right to equal increases.
Tinsley said FTA is only bargaining for its members and shouldn't be linked to other agreements the district makes. She said the union's proposal garnered little discussion at the table — if given more time, she said, those wage proposals could have been adjusted.
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