Del Norte Unified School District and the union representing its teachers still haven’t reached a contract agreement despite sitting down with a mediator from the California Public Employment Relations Board in November.

Amber Tiedeken-Cron, president of the Del Norte Teachers Association, reminded school board trustees on Thursday that teachers have been without a contract with the district for six months. She said it’s the longest delay in settling contract negotiations since she began teaching in Del Norte about 17 years ago.

“This is causing teachers to struggle financially and get further and further behind as this drags on,” Tiedeken-Cron told trustees. “Our teachers are discouraged. We are worried that we will lose our promising new teachers as well as tenured teachers who are frustrated with the lack of a contract settlement.”

Both DNTA and school district will enter into the fact finding stage where they present their case before a representative of the California Public Employment Relations Board, according to Coleen Parker, the district’s human resources director. The representative of that state board has 10 days to write a report and make recommendations.

“At that point we, hopefully if we get to the report writing stage, we have 10 days to come back to the table and negotiate a settlement; both parties,” Parker said, adding the report’s recommendations aren’t binding. “If we don’t come to a settlement then the district can propose its last final offer and then the union can vote on a strike. It’s a ways out before even that can happen.”

But according to Tiedeken-Cron, many teachers have already called for a strike, especially when a contract wasn’t settled in December.

“DNTA and (the California Teachers Association) will be planning, we call it a strike school, for the end of the month,” Tiedeken-Cron said Thursday. “We hold a class on a Saturday so people understand the legality of striking — what it looks like, cause I’ll be honest, I don’t think we’ve ever done that here.”

According to Tiedeken-Cron and Parker, the contract dispute is over what the district will pay in health and welfare benefits and how much the salary schedule will increase.

Under its final proposal, dated Oct. 9, 2017, the district is offering to increase the amount it would pay in health and welfare benefits to $10,300 per year and will offer a 1.5 percent increase to the salary schedule for the 2017-18 school year.

As for raising teachers’ salaries, Parker said the district has to look at the affordability of a raise for three years because the state requires schools to produce a balanced budget three years in advance.

DNTA’s most recent counter proposal, also dated Oct. 9, 2017, proposes increasing the health and welfare cap to $10,700 and a 2 percent increase to the salary schedule for the 2017-18.

Tiedeken-Cron said the original contract dispute had to do with the large number of student case-loads special education teachers were having to deal with. She said a tenured special education teacher left Del Norte County Unified School District last year for Humboldt County.

“It was the working conditions,” Tiedeken-Cron said. “She had 39 kids on her caseload last year and she didn’t get relief other than hey, have some extra hours. At some point it’s an un-doable job.”

In its most recent proposal, DNTA is asking the district to introduce a maximum caseload of 28 students to one special education teacher with a hard cap of 32 special education students to one teacher.

Parker said the district agreed to DNTA’s Oct. 9 counter proposal when it comes to a caseload maximum for special education students.

In her statement before the board, Tiedeken-Cron said the district hired 40 new teachers who may be reconsidering their options and looking at jobs elsewhere due to the lack of a contract settlement.

“We lost some tenured staff last year for districts with better pay and benefits,” she said. “I know districts that are planning to start recruitment this year as early as February. Recruitment season used to start in late March or early April. I never thought I’d live to see a time in teaching when teachers were no longer constrained to a district after seven years, but that’s the reality now.”

Parker said the district hasn’t received a lot of resignations. She said there have been two resignations, but they weren’t due to contract negotiations.

Both Parker and Tiedeken-Cron pointed out the governor’s new budget proposal for the 2017-18 fiscal year may change things. According to a statement from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the governor’s proposed budget will provide $11,614 per pupil in the next fiscal year. In 2011-12 the amount of per-pupil spending in California was $7,008, according to Torlakson’s statement.

Parker said the district will decide whether to bring in substitute teachers if there should be a strike.

“If the teachers strike they’re not being paid because they’re not working,” she said. “They don’t get paid for not working. Other districts — not ours because we haven’t gone through this — they will take money and basically pay subs to come in.”

To view negotiation updates between the school and DNTA, visit www.delnorte.k12.us and click on the “Negotiations Updates” link on the left.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.

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