NEWPORT BEACH : Schools, Union Hit Snag on Pay, Layoffs

The first round of negotiations between teachers and administrators in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District came to a quick halt this week when the union rejected the district's proposal of layoffs and deferred pay raises.

The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, saying that it refused to "subsidize" public education, issued a statement rejecting the deferred 2% raise, which the group said would be in effect a pay "freeze."

Administrators countered that the district is facing a $2.7-million budget deficit and needs the teachers' cooperation. The district is "doing the best we can," Supt. John W. Nicoll said in a statement.

Further, the district is moving forward with plans to lay off as many as 99 teachers next week, in time for the May 15 deadline. District officials say they hope to hire back some of those educators if more funds become available.

The main point of contention between the administrators and teachers is the salary issue, which would have given teachers the deferred pay raise next year with interest. Union officials say they plan to continue firm opposition to less pay, adding that many teachers already spend personal time and money on their classrooms.

The rejected offer also included "golden handshake" retirement incentives for employees over 55 years of age who have worked at the district for at least five years. The special retirement package amounts to a onetime cash bonus of 20% of the employee's annual salary. The union has supported this part of the contract in the past. About six employees may take the offer.

Union and district officials plan to continue talks and hope to have a contract in place by June, when the current contract expires.

The district has been making preliminary plans to balance its estimated $90-million budget by June.

Proposed cuts have included laying off the 99 teachers, eliminating the elementary school physical-education program, trimming the high school agricultural program, reducing funds to the athletics budget, and making cuts in administrative costs.

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