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Newport-Mesa school district and teachers union reach tentative contract agreement

Teacher contract rally
Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers President Britt Dowdy, left, and Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, rally Newport-Mesa teachers before a school board meeting in October.
(File Photo)

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District and its teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement, wrapping up nearly a year of negotiations.

The agreement includes a 3.5% raise for all employees in the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, retroactive to Dec. 1, as well as a 1.4% one-time compensation boost from December through June, an increase in the cap on district contributions to health and welfare benefits and — most notably for district families — a calendar change that will shift the school start date earlier.

“We’re glad we were able to reach a tentative agreement, and now it is out for the members to ratify,” said Britt Dowdy, president of the approximately 1,000-member union, which includes teachers and other positions including school nurses, psychologists, counselors, social workers, secondary school librarians, pathologists and program specialists.

Union members have until Jan. 31 to ratify the contract, Dowdy said. The document would then move to the district board of trustees for final approval, possibly at its Feb. 11 meeting.

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Board President Martha Fluor said the district is “thrilled” at reaching an agreement.

“It’s very important to us and we’re looking forward to moving forward on that,” Fluor said. “We’re just waiting for their ratification process to commence before we really jump up and down and go, ‘Oh, this is great!’ We’re happy for our students, we’re happy for our teachers that we were able to reach an agreement.”

Every year, the district negotiates salary and health and welfare benefits with its unions, said district spokeswoman Annette Franco. Next year, the teachers union will be open for a full contract negotiation, which comes around every three years.

In October, the school board approved a similar contract for the Classified School Employees Assn. that also included a 3.5% pay increase and a boost in the district’s maximum health benefit contributions.

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The teachers’ contract resolves a long-standing sticking point for many instructors and families: moving up the start of the school year to before Labor Day.

The first day of the 2020-21 school year will be Aug. 24, two weeks before Labor Day. School will let out June 11, 2021.

District officials have touted the potential benefits of an earlier start date, saying it would allow for additional class time before standardized tests such as the Advanced Placement exam, provide students with final transcripts faster and offer more opportunities for high school seniors to participate in year-end events.

Some teachers and students have balked at the idea of returning from summer recess earlier, particularly without proper air conditioning. Air-conditioning installations at Newport Harbor and Costa Mesa high schools are expected to be completed by the start of the next school year, according to a communication between Dowdy and the district’s chief operating officer, Tim Holcomb.

Several other school districts in the area, including in Laguna Beach, have already moved up their start dates.

The contract also includes increased funding for extra programming such as adjunct work, coaching and extracurricular activities.

One provision that is not included is a new increase in the district’s staff of counselors, social workers and psychologists. Dowdy said the union “ultimately came to the decision for more compensation rather than hiring more district staff.”

The need for more hires to improve the adult-to-student ratio is an outstanding issue, he said.

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Negotiations had dragged on since March, at least four months longer than usual, Dowdy said.

Franco said the two parties reached an impasse in November, triggering mediation. with a state-assigned go-between.

Part of the reason for the long process, Dowdy said, was a tussle over the district’s appropriation of health and welfare funding for union members who opt out of the district health plan. The parties currently are in mediation over that issue with the California Public Employment Relations Board, he said.

The union demonstrated throughout the negotiations, with members showing up for two school board meetings in blue T-shirts and creating informational videos for the public.

“We appreciate the time and dedication of both negotiation teams to reach a tentative agreement,” said district Supt. Fred Navarro.
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