GLENDALE — After 18 months of protracted negotiations that saw protests and heated rhetoric on both sides, Glendale Unified's main teachers union on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a three-year contract that officials said will save the district $12.8 million.
During a three-day voting period, about 80% of the Glendale Teachers Assn.'s 931 members who cast ballots voted in favor of the proposed contract, which includes unpaid work furlough days and increased employee contributions to medical benefits.
The union represents about 1,400 members.
The district's Board of Education is expected to adopt the contract at a special meeting Monday after the district's other smaller employee union votes on a separate deal, officials said.
"I just think we are happy to get an agreement with our teachers," said Supt. Dick Sheehan. "And it allows us to focus on what's important, and that's student achievement."
In August, 66 teachers who had received pink slips at the end of the school year were offered their jobs back after the district learned of a multibillion-dollar federal aid package to states. Under the one-time deal, the district is slated to receive up to $5 million.
Sheehan said the contract provides financial flexibility for the district to keep class sizes low and avoid future layoffs, but acknowledged it was difficult to account for potential future state funding cuts.
"Any time there are future state cuts, we are going to have to react to it, unfortunately," he said. "And that's just the state of affairs we deal with on a regular basis now."
Under the three-year contract, teachers will take two unpaid work furlough days this year, three next year and four in 2012-13. The two furloughs days scheduled for this year would be withdrawn if the state does not make deeper cuts when doling out federal funds.
"I think it was a very difficult choice for the teachers," said union President Tami Carlson. "But education is being cut to the bone by the state, and we have to maintain the quality of education that we have for our students in Glendale as best we can."
The Glendale Teachers Assn. in April voted down a tentative agreement reached earlier this year by a vote of 587 to 414.
The main difference between the two contracts is the number of teachers who would be affected by a cap on medical benefit contributions by the district. Under a compromise between the two groups, a medical benefits cap will rise by 8% each year.
After months of negotiations and public tussling between the groups — including multiple teacher protests and a candlelight vigil held in front of school board President Greg Krikorian's house — both sides said they want to rebuild their working relationship.
"There is going to be financial hardships and challenges for the years to come, but we cannot as a district address these challenges and hurdles doing it divided," Krikorian said. "Ultimately, the big picture is we have to move forward."