Tustin Teachers’ Pay Negotiations Break Down
Negotiations between teachers and administrators in the Tustin Unified School District collapsed Thursday, with each side accusing the other of obstinacy.
At issue is a contract to pay teachers for having worked longer hours during the past school year. The teachers’ union, the Tustin Educators Assn., has asked for a cost-of-living raise in addition to state funds for the longer work days. The school district has said it could afford only a 3.8% retroactive increase for the longer days, and no money at all for a cost-of-living raise.
“Everything broke down (in negotiations) today,” said union official Bill Ribblett, shortly after a five-hour bargaining session ended Thursday afternoon. “Mediation broke down, and we’ve asked for fact-finding.”
Fact-finding is a level of negotiation in which the state sends in a neutral agent to meet with representatives of the union and the school district. The three parties then analyze the information and make non-binding recommendations to both sides.
Ribblett acknowledged that fact-finding, if granted by the state, will extend the lack of a contract for several more months. But he charged that Supt. Maurice Ross was being inflexible, refusing to budge on the union’s demand for a cost-of-living increase.
“I think Dr. Ross wants to break the union,” said Ribblett.
‘We Don’t Have Any Money’
Ross, in a separate interview, said he had no such intent. “We can’t offer a COLA (cost-of-living allowance) simply because the district has a declining student population and we don’t have any money to offer a COLA,” said Ross. “I’ve told them time and again that there’s no reason we wouldn’t offer the teachers a COLA if we had the money. I’ve told them they could look at the books. I’ve offered contingency language (in a contract) so that they could get more money in case we are wrong and the money does show up.”
Ross noted that state allocations of funds, which now make up most of a school system’s budget, are based on the number of students.
Sandy Banis, president of the Tustin Educators Assn., said Ross is not credible on district finances. “I don’t believe him,” she said. “I just don’t believe him. He says the district has no money, and then they go around purchasing things that they couldn’t if the district was really broke.” She called Ross’s offer to pay more money if more funds become available “ridiculous.”
Pending the state’s reply to the request for fact-finding, no more talks between the union and the school district are scheduled. Classes in the school district ended June 13.
Rejected Previous Offer
There are about 400 teachers in Tustin Unified, and, according to the school district, the average teacher makes about $29,400. The teachers on June 10 voted down, 170 to 45, a tentative agreement between union and school district negotiators that called for a 3.8% pay increase retroactive to last July 1.
Ribblett said the union on Thursday offered, as a compromise, to settle if the district would grant a 2.5% cost-of-living raise in addition to the 3.8% increase for working longer hours. He said that offer was rejected.
Banis said the union plans “to exhaust all means of negotiating available to us.” If no settlement is reached before school reopens in September, she said, “a strike is always possible.”