Representatives of the Del Norte Teachers Association and the Del Norte Unified School District said they’re hopeful of reaching accord now that the two sides have agreed to resume discussions in their months-long contract dispute.
School Board President Frank Magarino made the announcement during the school district’s Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 26.
Superintendent Jeff Harris told The Triplicate that weighing on the district’s decision to resume negotiations was recent changes in student enrollment.
“Over the last few weeks, enrollment numbers have looked up. As they stood last Thursday, we had 51 students higher than anticipated,” Harris said.
“We know, however, that typically we have students that leave to Castle Rock (Charter School) or out of the area or out of state. So those numbers may change by the end of the year.”
Furthermore, Harris said, the school district is expecting extra dollars through a one-time payment of $602,000 from the state as funding for special education. “It really is to pay us back, for work already done with preschool special education, from state-refunded dollars,” Harris said.
Typically, the district has general fund expenditures of $5 million in special education and the state chips in another $2 million.
Harris said that given those circumstances, the district’s director of human resources, Colleen Parker, recommended to the board that negotiations with the teachers resume.
The next step is for the two parties to agree on a meeting date. Teachers union president Marshall Jones said the district wanted to meet Oct. 11, but the union was hoping for some time this week.
“Hopefully, the offer will be something we can live with. It’s been exhausting for both sides,” Jones told The Triplicate.
“Morale is low, teachers are not feeling valued by the district. They are still putting a smile on their face, but in this profession for kids, it puts on added stress.
“Some handle stress differently,” said Jones. “Support helps through that, but we have a lot of brand-new teachers who don’t have that support system yet. They’re in a new place, with a situation they didn’t create.
“But we’re very hopeful to get this behind us, to start rebuilding relationships. It’s been hard enough without having to expend all this energy.”
The two sides have been at an impasse since August and were preparing to enter the factfinding phase of the contract negotiations. That involves an outside, appointed arbitrator listening to both parties and making a recommendation that could be adopted or rejected by either one.
On the table is the school district’s offer giving the teachers association the choice of a 1% pay
District officials have said the state’s 3.26% cost-of-living adjustment wasn’t high enough to justify increasing salaries beyond 1%.
The teachers association, on the other hand, has lowered its demands since its initial request in March for a 6% salary increase, and a $1,000 increase to the health and welfare cap contributed by the school district.
Harris said he’s optimistic the two sides can reach an agreement soon.
“Honestly, after receiving the additional funds from the state and with the increase in enrollment, we’re very hopeful we can settle this contract negotiation as move toward January and begin looking at a new budget,” he said.
Compensation and other items are negotiated annually, while an overall contract is negotiated every three years, Harris added.