San Luis Coastal, union reach tentative deal; Lucia Mar teachers at impasse

Lucia Mar teachers, parents and students gather at Arroyo Grande High School on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2015, to march to the district boardroom to picket the school board meeting.
Lucia Mar teachers, parents and students gather at Arroyo Grande High School on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2015, to march to the district boardroom to picket the school board meeting.

The San Luis Coastal Teachers Association has reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract with the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, which if ratified would avert a potential strike and give teachers a 4 percent raise.

If approved by a simple majority of San Luis Coastal Teachers Association members, the agreement would go to the school board for consideration. The union represents more than 400 teachers and specialists at 15 schools in Los Osos, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.

“It’s cross-your-fingers time,” said Rick Robinett, assistant superintendent of personnel, innovation and educational services. “We’ll know soon.”

Meanwhile, south of San Luis Obispo, Lucia Mar Unified teachers and the school district there are still at an impasse over contract negotiations. Both groups are scheduled to go into a fact-finding hearing Friday, but in the meantime, Lucia Mar teachers have ramped up their protest efforts.

On Tuesday before the school board met, nearly 800 teachers, students and families marched from the Arroyo Grande High School parking lot to the nearby district office, wearing blue and holding signs proclaiming their support for teachers.

Several parents also spoke before the school board, urging the district to consider the union’s request.

The previous contract between the district and the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association expired June 30, and the two sides have since failed to reach an agreement on a new contract. The union, which represents about 580 members, is seeking a 10 percent raise, and the district has offered a 2 percent raise.

Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association President Donna Kandel said the union is hopeful that it will be able to come to an agreement with the district soon.

“We would of course prefer a fair settlement for this, but it’s not looking very good right now,” Kandel said of the group’s ongoing mediation with the district. “We’re still a few steps away from a strike, but it’s getting closer now.”

Teachers with the union also protested this week by only working the hours they are contractually obligated to work: Starting on Monday, they arrived at the start of the day and left immediately after the last bell, did not take home class work to grade and closed classrooms during their breaks.

The average teacher salary in the Lucia Mar district was $62,800 in the 2013-14 year, according to data from the California Department of Education and compiled by The Sacramento Bee.

The lowest possible salary was $41,695; the highest possible salary was $80,980, according to the Bee database.

The average San Luis Coastal teacher salary was $71,525. The lowest possible salary was $43,414; the highest possible salary was $91,225.

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San Luis Coastal teachers have not had a raise since the 2011-12 school year, when they received a 6.6 percent increase, which included 1.6 percent to compensate for working three extra days.

Union members have been working under an old contract for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years; they rejected a tentative agreement with the district in November.

Teachers said their health care costs also are increasing, cutting into the amount of money they take home.

In addition to the 4 percent increase, which is retroactive to July, the tentative agreement includes a one-time $500 payment to help offset increasing health care costs. The salary increase would cost the district about $1.4 million a year (plus an additional $230,000 for the one-time payment), Robinett said.

If the tentative agreement is approved by the teacher’s union, it could go to the school board as early as mid-March, he said.

The San Luis Coastal teachers and the district also had a fact-finding hearing scheduled this week, but the union requested a face-to-face meeting with the district, which was held last Friday.

Both sides sounded happy with the outcome.

“We feel really good about it,” said San Luis Coastal Teachers Association President Paul Orton, a counselor at Morro Bay High School.

The union and the district compromised on a few other sticking points in negotiations including formalizing prep time for first- through third-grade teachers and splitting up control of elementary teacher collaboration time between the teachers and the district.

Also, the instructional day may increase slightly for elementary students. This would not extend the teacher workday — set at seven hours, 10 minutes for elementary teachers — but increase the time teachers are in front of their classes.

Doing so might add nine to 13 minutes of instructional time, Orton said, and would make the instructional time at the district’s 10 elementary schools more standard.

The tentative agreement covers the 2013-14 school year, this school year and next, but district administrators also agreed that if property taxes increase by 5 percent or more — the district is funded primarily by property taxes — then they would reopen negotiations to discuss a possible salary increase with the teachers for the 2015-16 year, Robinett said.

Otherwise, no pay raise is anticipated next year.

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