Teachers union votes to reject tentative contract

A tentative contract with Glendale Unified that would have exchanged furlough days and more health benefits contributions in exchange for millions in savings was defeated by the teachers union Wednesday night, creating greater fiscal uncertainty that’s expected to last throughout the summer.

By a vote of 587 to 414, teachers rejected the proposed three-year agreement, which would have saved about $3.8 million every year through 15 unpaid work furlough days each year and greater employee contributions to health care costs. It would have also included one additional furlough day next month.

Both bargaining groups reached agreement on the tentative deal in April during their second session with a government-appointed mediator. Incoming Supt. Dick Sheehan said he was trying to schedule a third mediation session with the Glendale Teachers Assn.

“We want to try one more shot with the mediator, but it would have to be in the next week or so because the [fiscal] year is running out,” he said. “From our standpoint, we were able to reach a tentative agreement at one point. Obviously, what they signed didn’t fly with the rest of the association, but hopefully we can bridge the gap.”

Union President Tami Carlson said the outcome makes clear teachers will not accept permanent concessions in a temporary crisis.

“Hopefully the Glendale Unified School District will listen to their teachers, the parents of our students, and the community and keep small class sizes as they promised to do when they ran for their position on the Board of Education,” she said in an e-mail. “I am certain the teachers of Glendale would support an agreement for concessions that are temporary, and protect our most vulnerable members of society, kindergarten through third-grade students who are 5-, 6- and 7-years-old and have no voice in the political process.”

If an agreement cannot be reached, the mediator will move the process to a three-member fact finding panel that will offer non-binding recommendations. In 2007, the district and the teachers union signed their last contract midway through fact finding.

Glendale Unified administrators blamed some of the defeat on some Crescenta Valley High School teachers to campaign against the contract.

“There was an organized opposition that sprung up out of Crescenta Valley [High School] that worked to defeat it,” Sheehan said.

With further state cuts proposed to public education in January and May, and factoring the $15 million in savings from having larger elementary school classes in kindergarten through third grade, the district’s deficit is $32.1 million, district officials said.

“For us to save jobs, which is one of our primary goals besides protecting kids, all of us our going to have to take a bite at this,” said school board President Greg Krikorian. “The whole travesty of this whole thing is the cost of the conflict — it’s cost jobs.”

In March, the school board voted 4 to 1 to give themselves flexibility to increase class sizes in primary grades up to 30 students per teacher.

Some teachers who voted against the contract said they did so because the deal was without a guarantee that 77 remaining pink slips would be rescinded. Glendale Unified officials maintained they did not know how many jobs could be saved with the tentative deal, and that union negotiators never asked that pink slips be withdrawn.

Carlson disputed that characterization, and said union negotiators repeatedly asked to link the pink slips to the contract.

“I’ve never seen such a disconnect,” Krikorian said. “What’s most unfortunate is that who loses in this is really our kids and the teachers that really care.”

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