Education

Lucia Mar district hires bargaining consultant as teacher strike looms

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. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Lucia Mar Unified School District has hired a consultant to advise the district on how to prepare for a possible teachers strike.

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to hire James C. Whitlock as a collective bargaining services consultant, citing a desire to maintain the safety and effectiveness of the district's schools as the threat of a strike hangs overhead.

"We are really just sad that this could come, that we are even talking about this," board member Colleen Martin said during the discussion. "I feel really strongly that I know our district administration ... if it came to that point where our teachers union asked teachers to strike, that they would take the steps necessary to ensure our schools remained a safe, positive place for students to receive quality instruction."

Whitlock would be paid $155 per hour for "all consultant services rendered on behalf of (the) district" retroactive to March 1, according to his contract. The agreement stipulates that it can be terminated by either the district or Whitlock at any time.

The 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 one. The union, which represents about 580 members, is seeking a 10 percent raise, and the district has offered a 2 percent raise.

Both sides went into fact-finding Feb. 27. They are scheduled to meet again for mediation March 25, before the fact-finding report is published. If the two sides cannot reach a compromise after the findings are released, the next step could be a strike — something teachers say they have not ruled out.

According to his website, Whitlock "advises management and local bargaining unit representatives to work closely with one another in order to enhance employee productivity, promote harmonious working relationships, advance organizational goals, and maintain the financial health of the institution."

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.

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