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District, Teachers Work Out Contract

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In what teachers are calling a relief rather than a victory, the Ventura Community College District and union representatives have reached an agreement in their nearly 17-month contract dispute.

The tentative contract includes major compromises by teachers, including a lower-than-requested pay raise. But it does provide part-time teachers--who number 1,000 among the district’s 1,400 faculty members--with the job security rights they bitterly fought for.

“This is no victory for us,” Larry Miller, a Moorpark biology teacher and president of the Ventura County chapter of the California Federation of Teachers, said Thursday. “This is just a way to compromise in order to prevent students from any more suffering.”

The settlement comes as both sides were girding for the possibility of a walkout.

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Teachers had planned to hold a strike vote in two weeks if an agreement had not been reached. Officials were already seeking part-time educators who would teach if the 1,400 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians at the district’s three colleges walked out.

Should the majority of faculty members vote in favor of the contract, it will be ratified by trustees during a special meeting July 28. Chancellor Philip Westin was out of town late Wednesday--when the agreement was reached--and Thursday, but he is expected to be back in time for that meeting.

Board President Norman Nagel said he hoped the contract was ratified for the sake of the system’s 30,000 students.

“The district is planning for a robust and exciting fall semester,” Nagel said. “Students will have the benefit of a full academic program and all of the services necessary for their educational success.”

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In the three-year labor contract, which ends June 30, 2001, teachers sacrificed several key sticking points.

* They agreed to a 2.9% pay raise, retroactive to Jan. 1--much lower than the 5.7% an independent fact-finder had recommended in May. Raises during the remainder of the contract will be based on district revenues.

* They relinquished lifetime medical benefits for faculty members who are hired on or after June 30, 2001, the day the contract expires.

* They gave up a long-standing rule that faculty members would be evaluated by their peers. Administrators now will contribute to the evaluations.

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* They agreed to allow administrators to make scheduled classroom visits to perform evaluations.

But district officials compromised from their earlier stance that part-time employees would not be given job security. In the tentative agreement, part-time faculty members who receive a “superior” rating during their evaluations will be put on a preference list to teach extra classes.

Also, district officials have agreed to begin closing the salary gap between part-time and full-time teachers. As it stands, full-time teachers earn more per hour. Longtime part-time instructors now make only 49% of what their full-time colleagues make, said Elton Hall, the teachers’ chief negotiator.

At Moorpark College on Thursday, part-time teachers said they were pleased with the pay plan.

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“It was a serious concern for me,” said Nadine Mandel-Toren, who has taught anthropology at the college part time for eight years. “We deserve equal pay for equal work.”

Hall said presentations will be made to teachers at Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark colleges next week. Faculty members can vote on whether to agree to the contract terms at that time. Those who do not attend may mail in a vote.

Hall said Thursday that teachers were eager to put their anger behind them. “There have been many hurtful things said over the months and now we can begin the healing process,” he told district officials and teachers who attended a press conference at Moorpark College.

“We knew that the new contract was not going to be as rich as the old one,” Hall said. “But it’s richer than the [district’s] last proposal. It’s a contract that not only can [faculty members] live with, but they can live with in a meaningful way.”

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Before Thursday, many students had expressed concern about the possibility of a strike. Some were considering transferring to Santa Barbara City College and Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills.

“I’m starting to feel very relieved,” said 19-year-old Trisha Kirk of Camarillo, who will begin her third semester at Ventura College in the fall. “My parents wanted me to enroll at SBCC just in case, but I didn’t want to. They didn’t want me to hold up my education if there was a strike. It would have been a real hardship.”

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Next Step

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Teachers at Ventura, Moorpark and Oxnard colleges will hear presentations on the proposed contract next week, then vote on the terms. If educators approve the contract, trustees are expected to ratify it July 28.


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