The Sweetwater Education Association has made it known through numerous protests and public comment at school board meetings that they haven’t been satisfied with the contract proposals made by the Sweetwater Union High School District.
At a March 27 press conference in the district’s boardroom, it was district officials who were front and center in discussing bargaining issues with the teachers union, including publicly releasing the latest contract proposal.
Both parties last met on March 21 where bargaining teams said progress had been made in the last round of negotiations when they met last week.
“We’ve met all their issues, salary, class sizes and benefits,” said Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand. “So I think it is just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.”
Brand said the district is ready to reach an agreement with the union before the end of spring break this week.
“Our concern is if we are as close as both they and we believe, then let’s just hit the ground and lock ourselves in a room and let’s just get this thing done,” he said.
SEA President Roberto Rodriguez said it’s unreasonable for an agreement to be reached while union members are on vacation.
“It’s funny that they now have a sense or urgency, and it’s sad that it took a strike authorization vote to make them feel that sense of urgency,” Rodriguez said.
“I definitely think we can reach an agreement. What we can’t do is work on the district’s timeline.”
The teachers union — which comprises of about 1,800 members — has been seeking a contract that would see its first cost of living adjustment in six years and a reduction in class sizes.
The sticking point, however, is the cost of health insurance.
According to the district’s multi-year proposal, it has offered increasing its contribution to health benefits from $9,000 to $12,000 annually.
The district is also offering an immediate two percent salary increase retroactive to January, with a three percent increase coming in July, for a total raise of five percent.
In addition the district also proposes a decrease in student-to-teacher class size ratio from 31:1 to 30:1.
However, SEA wants the student-to-teacher ratios to drop to 28:1, and is asking for a three percent salary increase.
Sweetwater Trustee John McCann said the district’s current proposal makes financial sense for the district and the teachers.
“Our latest proposal is fair to the teachers but will allow us to keep a balanced budget for this year and for years to come,” McCann said.
In October, SEA accused the district of unfair labor practice by reneging on a contract proposal that included an agreed upon health insurance package.
Brand said the district isn’t performing in an unfair labor practice manner.
He said changes made to the health care law with the Affordable Care Act changed the district’s previous proposal.
Brand said the district had to do away with offering health care at a compository rate, which he said was in the old proposal for a tier rate.
Brand said the district has a plan in place if teachers were to strike, but he declined to state what that plan is.
“We have a plan, but I prefer to get this resolved,” he said.
The next mediation session is scheduled for April 8. Brand said if an agreement can’t be reached then the district and teachers union would enter the fact-finding stages of negotiations.