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Newport-Mesa school district adopts contract for teachers’ union

NEWPORT BEACH, CA, January 14, 2016 -- Sixth grade teacher Cass Powell asks for a show of hands of
A teacher talks with her sixth-grade class at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach in 2016. A new agreement gives members of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s teachers’ union a 3.5% raise.
(File Photo)

With a 3.5% raise at their fingertips, teachers in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District still aren’t too happy.

Some members of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers — the union that represents approximately 1,000 teachers, school nurses, psychologists, counselors, social workers, secondary-school librarians, pathologists and program specialists in the district — shook their heads as the Newport-Mesa board of trustees unanimously approved their contract Tuesday night.

The board’s vote was mostly perfunctory. The real test came when union members voted on the tentative agreement reached a month ago — 69% approved the contract, a lower rate than normal, said Britt Dowdy, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers.

“Many voted yes while holding their nose,” Dowdy said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

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The union’s vote to ratify the deal came “at a high cost of employee morale,” he said, because members didn’t feel the district took their concerns into account. Negotiations had dragged on since March, at least four months longer than usual. Outstanding disagreements caused the parties to seek state-assigned mediators in November.

“We hit some rocky points, but we came through at the end with some assistance,” said Leona Olson, district assistant superintendent of human resources. "[We] just really appreciate the work that went in on both teams.”

The contract assures a 3.5% raise for all employees in the union retroactive to Dec. 1, as well as a 1.4% one-time compensation boost from December through June and an increase in the cap on district contributions to health and welfare benefits.

But one of the contract’s provisions — shifting the school start date earlier — remains a thorn in the union’s side.

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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.

Some teachers and students have balked at the idea of returning from summer recess earlier. The new school calendar will give almost three more weeks to the second semester than the first.

Other students and parents have cheered the idea that there will be more time to prepare for standardized tests such as Advanced Placement exams, which take place in May.

Newport Harbor High School English teacher Betsy Fisher noted that most students are not enrolled in AP classes. She called the decision to change the calendar “clearly biased to higher-achieving students.”

The school district says the adjusted schedule aligns more easily with summer and fall program schedules, affords students more time to relax during winter break, gives ample time for final transcripts to be submitted to colleges and universities and enables high school seniors to participate in more June college programs.

Board President Martha Fluor assured the audience at Tuesday’s meeting that several meetings are already scheduled with district and union representatives to “begin the process of rebuilding communication.”

“It is the entire board’s intent that we move forward and rebuild an era of collaboration,” Fluor said.

Every year, the district negotiates salary and health and welfare benefits with its unions, said district spokeswoman Annette Franco. Full negotiation, which comes around every three years, will occur this year.

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Following the vote on the teachers’ contract, the board voted unanimously to open negotiations for next year’s contract with the California School Employees Assn., which represents support staff such as custodians, administrative assistants and teacher’s aides.

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