District-teacher negotiations remain in stalemate
After a third day of mediation, attempts by Lake Tahoe Unified School District and the teachers union failed in reaching an agreement over a suitable cost-of-living increase despite both sides wanting a conclusion.
In what appears to be a growing, or at least unmoving divide, teacher union officials say the money is available for an adequate pay increase against district officials who say the money pool isn’t that deep.
Cost of living adjustments are given by the state to school districts, which then puts the money into its general fund. Teachers received a slight increase when Superintendent Jim Tarwater joined the district before last school year.
Union representatives, in citing district reserves and the return of previously eliminated programs, say the district’s finances are in good shape and have lobbied for more money as overall costs increased.
Steve Hayward, president of the South Tahoe Educators Association and involved in the mediation process, was disappointed.
“I thought we would get a lot closer than we did,” he said.
Two mediation sessions happened last month.
Teachers picketed for two days, on Sept. 18 and again on Tuesday, in front of district offices where talks took place. Knowing the decision of how much of a cost-of-living increase rested with the five-member school board, teachers filled the audience during a Sept. 26 school board meeting and voiced their displeasure.
“It’s a distraction. It’s definitely a distraction,” Hayward said. “We’re willing to get it settled as soon as they want to give us a fair and equitable cost-of-living increase.”
Board member Sue Novasel hoped the disagreement over pay wouldn’t seep into the classrooms.
“I’m hoping it’s not a distraction,” she said. “I don’t believe it is. It’s just something we need to reach an agreement on as soon as possible.”
The question is where the two sides go from here. Hayward and Tarwater said another date with the mediator, who goes from side to side in trying to reach consensus, will likely be scheduled.
“I always find that when salary is an issue the teachers relate it to their job performance and that’s not the issue,” Tarwater said.
As mediation was underway Tuesday, a group of roughly 200 teachers, support staff, spouses, children and pets demonstrated at the intersection of Lake Tahoe and Al Tahoe boulevards where district offices sit.
Similar to the Sept. 18 “informational picket,” as it was called, signs were hoisted such as “district in the black, teachers in the red,” and “Your LTUSD school board does not support your children’s teachers.”
Red clothing was worn by most picketers to signify the difficult financial times teachers have endured.
Joy Rothschild, a retired member of the classified union, walked with her dog AJ, also donning a red shirt, in support of teachers.
“AJ is pro union,” Rothschild said.