schools.jpgSan Francisco Unified School District teachers have voted to authorize a strike in response to a stalemate in contract negotiations with the district, union officials said today.

About 97 percent of teachers on Thursday night approved the strike vote, according to Matthew Hardy, a spokesman for the union United Educators of San Francisco.

The vote, according to Hardy, is the first part in a two-step process, and teachers would need to vote a second time before going out on strike.

The union is in the final year of a two-year contract that expires on July 1.

The school district, faced with a projected budget deficit of $83 million, is seeking $30 million in cuts from teachers’ salaries and benefits over the next two years, and preparing to issue more than 200 pink slips affecting teaching positions by the May 15 deadline.

Union officials have said they do not trust the district’s budget numbers.

“It is time for the district to stop seeking unilateral cuts and sweeping program changes, and to start treating the teachers and paraprofessionals with respect and to recognize what we have done to keep this district afloat,” union president Dennis Kelly said.

“We are committed to a negotiated settlement, and we will continue to bargain in good faith,” Kelly said. “But as the overwhelming results of the strike vote demonstrate, teachers are willing to do what it takes to protect their classrooms and their profession.”

District Superintendent Carlos Garcia said in a statement that he sympathized with teachers’ frustration with budget cuts, but argued that state budget problems left the district with no other choices.

“We welcome anyone to examine our budget as you will see a very lean operation where most of the money goes to cover school site employee salaries and benefits,” Garcia said, noting that central services and administration have been cut by 10 percent over the past few years and will be cut another 5 percent.

“There are simply no good options due to the chronic under funding of education in the State of California,” Garcia said.

Earlier this week, the state Public Employment Relations Board approved a request by the district to assign a state mediator, but no date for mediation has been set yet, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

The move was decried by the union, which accused the district of walking away from talks without notice.

Two years ago, when the current contract was under negotiation, talks also reached an impasse and a mediator was assigned to usher both parties to a compromise.

Cuts sought by the district in current negotiations include increased classes sizes in grades K-3, four furlough days per school year, the elimination of an extra prep period for teachers who teach AP classes and for high school department heads, the elimination of paid teacher sabbaticals and a change in the way some substitute teachers are compensated.

Sara Gaiser, Bay City News

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