Del Norte Unified School District and the union representing its teachers reached a tentative agreement on Wednesday following about five months of contract negotiations and mediation from the state.

The tentative 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 back to Aug. 1, 2017, according to district Superintendent Jeff Harris. Non-salary stipends aren’t retroactive on any stipends already paid, Harris said.

The executive board of the Del Norte Teachers Association approved the tentative agreement on Thursday, said DNTA President Amber Tiedeken-Cron. DNTA members will have a chance to vote on the agreement next week. Tiedeken-Cron said she expects a final vote from DNTA members by Friday.

If DNTA ratifies the tentative agreement, it will come back to the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees for a vote on Feb. 15.

“DNTA got a hold of the district about going back to the table,” Tiedeken-Cron said. “We were hoping with all the community support they would be willing to sit back down with fact finding, especially with (Gov. Jerry Brown’s) new budget. We got them to come back to the table on Wednesday and basically it seemed like the board got the message, so we were able to reach a TA Wednesday afternoon.”

Bargaining teams representing DNTA and the school district began reviewing and revising a three year contract beginning in May, according to a district press release. Both teams began sharing proposals in August and in October negotiations stalled 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 selected a member for a fact finding panel and agreed to a neutral member for the panel to prepare for a formal hearing.

The fact finding process has been terminated since both parties were able to come to a tentative agreement, according to the school district.

According to Tiedeken-Cron, under the tentative agreement, career technical education teachers, who typically don’t have the same kind of credentialing general academic teachers do, will be able to benefit from salary increases.

“Those poor guys, a lot of times, get locked into the lowest column because they don’t have a bachelor’s plus credential,” Tiedeken-Cron said. “They came up with a way for those people to take classes and stuff that apply to their area and to get credit. It enables them to move across the salary schedule the way any of us would by taking college classes.”

The agreement also increased the amount of credit new and current teachers can receive from 5 years to 10, according to the school district. According to Tiedeken-Cron, this will help place current teachers in the appropriate spot on the salary schedule and hopefully attract new employees to Del Norte.

“They agreed that to attract more experienced teachers we should give more credit,” she said. “If you have more than five credit and you come to Del Norte County, once you reach permanent status, you can get up to 10 years of credit. It’s almost double what you can previously get.”

Based on Brown’s budget proposal, Del Norte County Unified School District is projected to receive $10,039 in per-pupil funding for the 2018-19 school year based on average daily attendance. The district expects a total of $34,293,131 in state funding next year, according to Jeff Napier, the district’s assistant superintendent of business.

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