Union, district reach agreement

COSTA MESA — The Newport Mesa Federation of Teachers has reached a tentative pact with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, agreeing to a one-year contract in which there will be no raises and no work furloughs, said Kimberly Claytor, the federation president.

The tentative contract drafted between the district and the 1,200-employee teachers' union was the culmination of three months of negotiations, Claytor said.

"We're thrilled," said Claytor, adding that at the union will hold an election to ratify it in the first two weeks of October. "We've got a very fair contract. One of the things in our contract, if you want to think of it this way, is that there will be an incentive for teachers to retire early, if they're between the ages of 55 and 65 years old.

"We negotiated that they could be covered under the employee benefits package, if they decided to do so."

The tentative contract comes amid more than 100 layoffs by the district to plug a $13.5-million hole in this year's budget due to state cutbacks in Sacramento.

Most of the teachers laid off were elementary school teachers with little seniority, but some managed to keep their jobs due to older teachers who decided to retire over the summer, Claytor said.

Under the agreement, the union, which is part of the American Federation of Teachers Local No. 1794, would also see an increase in employee contribution to their compensation and benefits plan, but the amount of money deducted from their monthly paychecks to pay insurance premiums will range from employee to employee, Claytor said, adding that the overall increase comes to 10%.

The hike in monthly premiums is the direct result of an increase in the insurance company's costs, Claytor said, adding that the district's provider is Anthem Blue Cross, which raised its costs by 19% — with the district agreeing to cover 8.9% of the increase.

Claytor said the good news is that a good chunk of the 10% increase had been set aside under a previous agreement reached between the district and the union — as much as $700 per year per union member.

Also, under the agreement, the teachers and principals at all 32 school sites would meet more often and "collaborate more often" in the name of improving and continuing student success, Claytor said.

"We worked through the night on this and finally signed off on it," Claytor said.

The previous teachers' contract was three years, and consisted of 22% raises for union members, bringing the district from one of the lowest paid to one of the highest paid. It currently ranks second behind Laguna Beach, Claytor said.

But then after the contract expired this summer, the union had to renegotiate at a time when money and times are tough, Claytor said.

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