Fact finder sides with district

GLENDALE — A state-appointed fact finder backed Glendale Unified in a report that was ordered to sift through what turned out to be an 18-month stand-off with its main teachers union over salary and benefits concessions.

The 16-page finding, which became public record after both sides ratified a three-year cost-cutting agreement earlier this month, concluded the district had not miscalculated or underestimated their finances, despite accusations to the contrary by the Glendale Teachers Assn.

The report was written by Bonnie Castrey, a career mediator and member of the Huntington Beach Union High School District Board of Education in Orange County.

"It is a fact that the district is spending down its reserves and is in deficit spending, which is not sustainable," Castrey wrote.

Glendale Teachers Assn. President Tami Carlson said the advisory findings were incomplete and one-sided. It was a third the size of traditional mediation reports and replaced a comprehensive accounting of facts with opinions, she charged.

"It should just be the facts, and we don't feel that she covered them all," she said.

Castrey declined to comment on the report, in which she determined district officials had done the best they could to minimize fallout from state budget cuts beginning in 2007. State leaders have cut public education by $17 billion in the last two years, and face a $19-billion deficit this year in a budget that's almost three months late.

"Without significant reductions in the 2010-11 school year and going forward, these projections lead the district to insolvency and takeover by [Los Angeles] County and state [officials] in fiscal year 2012-13," Castrey wrote.

Her recommendations endorsed a tentative agreement both sides agreed to in April, but that was ultimately rejected, 587-414, by teachers on May 26.

"[It] represented the parties' joint efforts in mediation to find a reasoned resolution and place of discomfort for both of them in resolving this very challenging budgetary set of issues," she wrote.

In the report, Castrey noted that the union was not opposed to concessions conceptually. Teachers argued give-backs should be temporary, but Castrey advised that both sides found middle ground with the April tentative agreement, which stipulated permanent concessions.

Carlson said the fact-finding report was "old news," as both sides ultimately agreed to a three-year, $12.8-million deal that cuts district costs through furlough days and increased contributions to medical benefits.

Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said the focus in negotiations was on working together, not winners and losers.

"I think the fact-finding report gives credence to everything we have been saying," he said. "Our goal was to go in, from the get-go, and get an agreement that we felt was fair to the teachers and brought needed savings to the district."

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