schools.jpgAlthough contract negotiations between San Francisco educators and the school district reached a stalemate last week, talks could soon move forward, as the state Public Employment Relations Board today sided with the district in declaring an impasse.

The board’s decision means that a state mediator will be assigned to work with the union, the United Educators of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Unified School District.

San Francisco teachers say they have been ready to discuss contract negotiations with the school district, but union leadership announced this afternoon that the district “essentially walked away from the bargaining table.”

Union president Dennis Kelly said he and his bargaining team spent the better part of the morning preparing proposals in anticipation of a bargaining meeting that had been scheduled for today–until the union received word late this morning that the school district had backed out of the meeting.

“We are here,” Kelly said. “They should be also.”

Superintendent Carlos Garcia said that because the school district had asked the union last week to jointly request the impasse that the district never had intentions of meeting with the union today.

“We came to the realization that they weren’t going to submit any proposals to us,” Garcia said. “We realized that we were basically wasting our time because they weren’t serious about bringing this to closure.”

The union is in the final year of a two-year contract that expires on July 1. The school district is demanding $30 million in cuts from teachers’ salaries and benefits over the next two years.

The school district is prepared to issue 218 pink slips by the May 15 deadline, Garcia said, noting that the majority of the layoffs would affect teaching positions.

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.

“Going into impasse has been a long-standing tradition here,” Garcia said. “Right when we get to the hardcore negotiations, it seems to be the natural step.”

A spokesman for the union, Matthew Hardy, said the district is proposing cuts across the system that will fundamentally impact how schools are run.

Among its proposals, the school district, Hardy said, is calling for nine furlough days over the contract–up from eight unpaid days in the current contract–the elimination of a preparation period for Advanced Placement teachers and department heads, and a shortening of the early education calendar.

Kelly called the early education program “the foundation for the district” and an “investment in the success of children.”

The reductions to the early education program, Garcia said, are the result of $500 million in proposed cuts to such programs in this year’s state budget, a proposal State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has recently been lobbying against.

“California has become a national disgrace in terms of how much we’re funded per student,” he said.

California ranks 47th in the nation in terms of spending on education per student.

“We’re all fighting for crumbs when crumbs aren’t enough to run the school district,” Garcia said.

The union plans to hold a strike authorization vote on Thursday.

“We can’t have faith and confidence in their numbers,” Hardy said.

Should the union fail to come to the negotiations with proposals that will advance the discussion, Garcia said, the mediator may decide to enter a fact-finding phase, which the school district believes would confirm their budget estimates and support their requests.

“We’re frustrated by the union’s reaction that they don’t believe our numbers,” Garcia said.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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