Sweetwater District Says Deal Is Fair

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Sweetwater teachers have been vocal about their hostile labor negotiations with the district. But on Thursday, the district shared its side of the story. NBC 7’s Wendy Fry has details on what exactly the district is offering. (Published Thursday, Mar 27, 2014)

    The Sweetwater Union High School District and its teacher's union both say they are very close to reaching an agreement on labor negotiations. 

    Thursday, the school district made its offer public. Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand said he wasn't sure if communication about the offer was reaching all the teachers, and he wanted to make sure the community and staff understood the deal being offered by the district.

    The district is suggesting contributions to medical benefits for teachers maxing out at $12,000 a year, a retroactive 2 percent raise now and 3 percent raise in July, and class sizes of 30:1 ratio.

    Brand said a married teacher would pay about $90 a month for health insurance for themselves and a spouse. A single teacher would pay nothing. Teachers with families covered by their medical insurance would pay about $400 a month, he said.

    "We're quite honestly dumbfounded because, again, we've addressed all the issues that they said were important to them," Brand said in an interview with NBC7. "So, I think you have to ask them where the stumbling block is."

    Sweewater Education Association board member Helen Farias said it is incorrect that all of the teachers' concerns have been addressed.

    "That is a flat out lie. They did not meet all of our sticking points. In fact, what they did is they bargained regressively," Farias said.

    She's talking about class sizes. The district's proposal says class sizes would be reduced to 30:1 from 31:1. Farias says, in fact, the last contract has class sizes lower at 28:1.

    Another concern: teachers say the district imposed a health care plan on them that has left many families struggling financially.

    Thursday, many teachers said they are willing to accept the deal, if they could trust that the district would stick to it.

    Brand and board members Jim Cartmill and John McCann brought sleeping bags and overnight bags to the news conference Thursday, saying they were willing to negotiate around the clock to get a deal into place.

    "The Sweetwater district is basically a large family, and just like families have from time to time, we have squabbles. But that's what they are. They are squabbles that should not be escalating," Brand said. "So we need to stop the escalation and we need to get back to the bargaining table and we need to do the right thing." 

    Negotiations with a mediator have moved into the fact-finding stage. Districts or unions will often waive the timeline to reach a resolution more quickly once talks move into fact-finding stages, but Sweetwater Education Association President Roberto Rodriguez said the union is not going to let the district dictate the timeline on reaching an agreement.

    "Suddenly, Brand feels a sense of urgency and is worried about the stress level the staff and the community feel?" Rodriguez wrote in a communication that went out to members.

    "He(Brand) hasn't been worried about the stress he has continued to put on our families since last October when he unilaterally changed the district's health benefit contribution," the letter stated. 

    The teacher's union has authorized a strike, but the district would first have to impose their budget on the teachers to allow a strike to take place. There would likely be an 18 to 24 hour warning before teachers walk off the job if a strike were to be called.

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