Agreement delays decisions on furlough days, benefits cuts
January 24, 2012 3:29 PM
Natasha Lindstrom, Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE • Three months after declaring an impasse, the Victor Valley Union High School District and its teachers union have struck a tentative agreement. (Click here to read the agreemment.)

But rather than resolve contentious compensation issues, the proposed deal essentially delays the hard decisions until negotiations resume in March for the 2012-13 school year.

District officials had been pushing to issue teachers eight furlough days, or unpaid days off, in the name of ensuring the district’s long-term financial stability. Union officials had protested the furloughs for slashing teacher pay by 4 to 7 percent and argued the district could instead pull from its healthy reserves.

Monday marked the third negotiation session led by an impartial state mediator, with several dozen teachers wearing bright red union shirts and signs like “Treat teachers fairly” while picketing outside all three meetings.

Under the tentative agreement reached Monday, existing teacher contract terms will remain in effect until at least June 30. The district could have opted to advance through the impasse process in an attempt to ultimately force furloughs on the teachers.

“It was very nice to see the district was working real well with the negotiating team,” VVTA President Jose Berrios said by phone Tuesday. “It was a real good meeting. It was a good positive step.”

The agreement states that salary and health and welfare benefits are “automatic reopeners” this spring when negotiations resume. It also requires both sides to “sunshine,” or disclose at a public meeting, their initial proposals for the 2012-13 school year by March 1.

“The District would like to thank VVTA and its negotiating team for their professionalism at the bargaining table and looks forward to productive bargaining session, commencing in March 2012,” states a district memo to all certificated staff from Steven Desist, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Desist did not return a Tuesday call for comment.

It’ll be up to union members to determine their next specific proposals, Berrios said, though it doesn’t seem likely they’ll be eager to swallow the concessions the district has wanted. Teachers are also waiting to see if Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative will pass and improve the district’s fiscal situation.

“We still feel that there’s enough in the reserve that we can survive,” Berrios said.

The union membership now has 10 days to ratify the agreement with a vote before sending it to the district board for adoption.

If green-lighted by the union, the deal means it won’t be necessary for the district to take the next step to resolve an impasse called fact-finding, which would have involved a panel listening to arguments for both sides at an evidentiary hearing

Natasha Lindstrom may be reached at (760) 951-6232 or at NLindstrom@VVDailyPress.com.

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