S.B. Teachers Protest Fails

Lots of Sound and Fury but No Results in Contract

More than 400 Santa Barbara
School District teachers
crashed the party at the S.B. School Board meeting Tuesday night
hoping to break the stalemate in their current contract
negotiations with the district. But despite the raucous,
occasionally heated, and constantly high-energy union-organized
demonstration, the two sides — still miles apart
in their now several-month-old negotiation process — failed to
reach an agreement during Wednesday’s eight-hour final
round
of state-mediated talks.

With the word “strike” buzzing around
the room Tuesday night, the failure of compromise during
Wednesday’s hearing — though far from a breaking point — is
certainly bad news for the district as well as students and
teachers alike. Now it is up to a three-member panel under the
Public Employment Relations
Board
to examine the nitty-gritty of the district’s
cash-challenged budget and determine a non-binding middle ground
between the teacher’s and their employers that might pave the way
for an acceptable deal.

The fact-finding committee will be
comprised of a district-appointed representative, a teacher’s
union-appointed member, and then a non-partisan chairperson picked
from a list of labor professionals provided by the state. In about
a month’s time, the panel will convene for a private hearing hoping
to hash a compromise — with budget projections in hand — betwixt
the teacher’s demands of a 6% raise and the district’s
hard-and-fast offer of a 1.5% bump in pay
.

However, if the resolve of the union as
witnessed on Tuesday is any indication, it seems that unless the
district is willing to reconsider teacher salaries in a big way,
things may be gridlocked for some time yet.
Receiving a thunderous applause complete with whistles and catcalls
from the packed house Tuesday night, union rep
Brian Tanguay
(pictured) from the California School Employees
Association
summarized the teachers’ position by saying to the
board and Superintendent
Brian Sarvis
: “This struggle isn’t about greed. It’s about fair
wages for essential work.” Currently, the average SB school teacher
makes about $66,000 annually.

For their part, the district maintains that — contrary to the
buttons being worn by Tuesday’s demonstrators — the teachers are a
priority. It’s just that with declining enrollment and the
possibility of closing a school on the horizon, they simply
cannot afford to pay any more than the 1.5%
figure
, especially, according to Superintendent Sarvis,
when you factor in the state-mandated minimum budget reserves.
Speaking on the subject two weeks ago Sarvis commented, “It comes
down to money and we [the
elementary
and high school
districts
] don’t have a lot of it.”

The explanation isn’t nearly good enough
according to the union’s head negotiator Ken
Stevens
. Taking the mike Tuesday night during public
comment, Stevens said the district’s offer adds up to little more
than $50 extra a month for most teachers — a number that
doesn’t come close to helping them cope with Santa
Barbara’s ridiculous cost of living nor even offset the money most
teachers spend out of their own pocket to pay for classroom
supplies
. Calling out Sarvis for accepting a 3%
raise on his own $160,000 annual salary earlier this year

in the midst of the stalled teacher talks, Stevens pointed his
finger at the Board Tuesday declared with a noted amount of venom,
“Your offer isn’t a raise, it’s a partial reimbursement…Please look
to the future and make teachers a priority once again in Santa
Barbara.”

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