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Teachers, district hit wall in contract negotiations

Union members protest to demand temporary rather than permanent concessions.

September 16, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com
  • Michael English, a teacher at Emerson Elementary, holds a placard he made at a rally held by BUSD teachers in front of city hall on Thursday, September 15, 2011. (Roger Wilson/Staff Photographer)
Michael English, a teacher at Emerson Elementary, holds…

Burbank teachers took to city streets Thursday to demand that school district officials return to the bargaining table to finalize the terms of a new contract.

Burbank Unified and the Burbank Teachers Assn. have been locked in negotiations for months, trying to work out a successor agreement to the one that expired in June 2010.

The parties hit an impasse last month, and state-supervised mediation is scheduled for Friday.

Among the points of contention are unpaid furlough days — union representatives said they will accept conditional furlough days that would be implemented only if forthcoming state revenue figures trigger mid-year cuts to education.

District leadership said they want at least some furlough days in place regardless of the fluctuating state budget, and that they can be eliminated if the economic climate improves.

Teachers are also pushing for conditional language when it comes to class sizes, which they want to revert back to 30.5 students to one teacher, while the district is seeking to hold the ratio at its current level of 31 students to one teacher.

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Union leaders said they would prefer to reach an agreement before the scheduled mediation, adding they were caught off guard when the district pulled out of negotiations last month.

“I don’t have any more faith in a mediator than I do in our own people,” union President Lori Adams said. “The mediator just puts us in rooms and takes our offer to them and their offer to us. How is that better than sitting at the same table?”

The district is currently deficit spending at a rate of more than $4 million a year, and is staying afloat by dipping into savings, Supt. Stan Carrizosa said. The board has a fiduciary responsibility to look at multi-year projections, and the fear is that a few years down the road, district reserves will evaporate, he added.

“Our school board has never said we do not have money to cover our [expenses] on a year-to-year basis,” Carrizosa said. “They are worried that our savings is going to run out, and we are still going to have that ongoing debt.”

District leaders want to eliminate the annual deficit spending during a three-year period, he said.

“What we have been working on at the negotiating table is how can we attack the structural deficit, how can we get our annual expenses in line with our annual revenues,” Carrizosa said.

Alexis Weiner, an English teacher at John Burroughs High School and union organizer, said that teachers have already been forced to give up so much, and that conceding additional ground would be insufferable.

“This recession has to be temporary,” Weiner said. “Unless we have restoration language in our contract, we have no guarantee that anything is ever going to come back.”

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