Although the Del Norte Unified School District school board unanimously approved a new three-year agreement reached with the teachers union without comment, the trustees received a warning Thursday from the Del Norte Teachers Association’s (DNTA) lead negotiator.

Del Norte High School math instructor Dave Bokor, who led negotiations on behalf of DNTA, said the district’s policy has been to wait until the summer before it gets serious about negotiating finances with the teachers union. This is troubling, he said, because both parties are supposed to try to negotiate a contract by June.

Bokor also encouraged the school district to use a portion of its reserves to pay its employees better salaries.

“By putting the employees at the end of the negotiations, that’s the wrong way to do it, you’re not valuing who we are and what we do,” Bokor told trustees. “I’ve been here for 32 years now and this is the worst morale I’ve seen between the district administration and the teachers, and it funnels down to the kids.”

Bargaining teams representing DNTA and the school district began reviewing and revising a three year contract in May. Both teams started sharing proposals in August, but negotiations stalled in October over proposals regarding compensation and health and welfare benefits.

The Public Employee Relations Board, or PERB, provided a mediator in November, but they were unable to bring about an agreement.

By mid-January both parties had selected a member for a fact finding panel and had agreed to a neutral member for the panel and was preparing a formal hearing.

DNTA and the California Teachers Association had also scheduled a strike school, a class that informs its members on the legality of striking, DNTA president Amber Tiedeken-Cron told the Triplicate on Jan. 4.

But after both parties had time to digest the 2018-19 budget proposal released by Gov. Jerry Brown last month, they sat down and hammered out a tentative deal on Jan. 24, avoiding the fact finding phase.

The school board’s vote on Thursday finalized that deal.

The agreement includes increasing the amount the district pays in health and welfare benefits to $10,500, an increase of about $20 for the 2017-18 school year. Special education teachers will have a maximum caseload of 28 students with a hard cap of 32 students. Non-salary stipends will be increased by 3 percent and each cell of the 2017-18 salary schedule will be increased by 2 percent, according to the agreement.

The 2 percent increase to the 2017-18 salary schedule will be retroactive to Aug. 1, 2017, district Superintendent Jeff Harris told the Triplicate on Jan. 25.

Before the board voted on the contract, Jeff Napier, assistant superintendent of business, told them the total cost of the three-year agreement to the district would be $1.5 million.

Bokor, who was one of several teachers in the boardroom said the most recent round of negotiations was “the most miserable thing” he was a part of. He commended the district on wanting to improve infrastructure at its school sites, referring to a later item on the agenda regarding upgrading the district’s Internet switches and routers but said the district should increase the salaries it pays its teachers.

Bokor said the original 5 percent increase DNTA asked for at the start of negotiations was reasonable. The 3 percent both parties eventually agreed to was also reasonable, he said.

“The district came in with a negative; not very reasonable,” Bokor said.

The district’s most recent proposal, dated Sept. 27, before both parties reached an impasse offered to increase the amount it pays for health and welfare benefits from $9,711 to $10,700 per certificated employee while reducing hourly compensation from $41.62 to $37.57.

Tiedeken-Cron told the Triplicate in November that the offer would lead to a reduction in take-home pay for her colleagues.

Del Norte High School social studies teacher John Murphy, a member of the DNTA bargaining team, also expressed his frustrations at how contract negotiations went this year, describing it as a “singularly miserable experience.”

“If I look at my fellow teachers, 40 of whom are new, that was their introduction to Del Norte Unified School District,” he said. “I don’t like to hear the word strike or even the word recall thrown out. We’re too small. Bad blood lasts too long in this community for it to be here, so I strongly urge you to take a different (tack) in bargaining this year.”

DNTA will push to get a contract negotiated by the end of June this year, Bokor told trustees Thursday. He said the union may also demand higher salary increases this time around.

“We’re going to come in with more than 5, closer to 8, maybe 10, and we’re going to fight for it this time,” he said. “As John said, the strike was averted, it’s not gone. We had a strike school scheduled. We had a strike vote scheduled. I have never, in 32 years, been in a situation that I’ve seen that. It would have passed, guaranteed. Don’t go there again this year.”

In other matters, the board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of upgrading the district’s technology infrastructure, which includes installing a new 10 gigabit system, which would cost $3.4 million to $4 million, according to a proposal from Redding-based Development Group Incorporated.

The board’s approval allows the district to use the California Multiple Awards System instead of a bidding process and will allow Napier to work with CISCO on a zero-interest, no fee loan to help finance the project.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at .