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Teachers break out the black 

Teachers with the Lucia Mar Unified School District exhibited their dissatisfaction with the current state of labor negotiations by donning black in the classroom on Oct. 20. The organization plans to issue this visual statement on the last school day of every week until the district bridges the gap with union reps.

"Our intent was to work with the current board to try to get a settlement, but they are obviously not going to work with us at this point," said Unified Teachers' Association president Kevin Statom. "We're kind of regrouping here, and trying to figure out what our best plan is at this point to get a good contract."

He explained that more than a dozen key people in the association would meet the week of Oct. 30 to determine what to do next.

The district agreed to a 7-percent raise for the 2006-07 school year, but the union also wants to lock in a three-year contract with adequate cost-of-living guarantees the talking point prompting the stalemate.

"The main concern is the salary gap what's going to happen in the future. What kind of teacher is going to come to Lucia Mar in five years?" asked Eric Ray, an Ocean View teacher involved in the union.

The last set of negotiations broke down the afternoon of Oct. 24, with the union declaring an impasse. Now, the district must bring in a state-appointed mediator. There's no word yet on whether the mediated negotiations will take place before the scheduled action by the union to have members work to contract.

However, even if the mediator makes a prompt entry to the scene, the upcoming election throws another complication into an already convoluted matter. Nov. 14 marks the last meeting of the sitting school board, and, on Dec. 12, a potentially restructured body will inherit the negotiations.

"It's hard to predict what is going to happen, because there could be as many as five new board members if Erik Howell wins [his bid for Pismo Beach mayor]," district superintendent Deborah Flores said. "Five seats on a seven-member board that's significant."

Members of the community have called this new turn in the several-month-old negotiations both serious and necessary to ensure teacher survivability in a region with an ever-escalating cost of living. Others decried it as a step too far.

Board member Erik Howell said that while district pay to teachers lags behind that of others on the Central Coast, budgeting restrictions forced by Prop. 13 quite simply prevent salaries on par with that of Santa Maria or San Luis Coastal. Part of the problem, he explained, is it's difficult to foresee the allocation of state revenue three years down the line certainly too difficult to offer iron-clad contract promises.

"We've pretty much given them every dime that we've got now they want this multi-year contract," Howell said. "We're not going to risk bankrupting the district."

"Year after year, we say 'okay' when they want to balance the budget on our backs," Ocean View's Ray said. "It's been 10 years now. We're not willing to be passive anymore."

Educators from other districts including Cuesta College union head Marilyn Rossa promised to also wear black on Fridays as a sign of solidarity.

"As a parent of a student at Arroyo Grande High School, I can attest to the superb jobs the teachers do," Rossa wrote to New Times. "If their Board doesn't pay them equitably, they will find it very difficult to attract quality teachers in the future."

More than $170,000 has already been earmarked in the budget toward the increase in teachers' salaries and stipends for the term agreed upon.

According to board members, the district's classified employees non-licensed workers who, on average, make considerably less than faculty recently accepted the 7-percent raise offered by the district.

"The classified employees responded with hugs. We offered the same thing to the teachers, and they're protesting," Howell commented. "What private sector job is getting a 7-percent raise?"


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