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Hart district educators stick to their guns

Teachers' union not budging on health benefits

Posted: June 23, 2009 9:02 p.m.
Updated: June 24, 2009 4:30 a.m.
 
Contract negotiations between the William S. Hart Union High School District and the association representing more than 1,000 Hart district teachers reached an impasse over health benefits for teachers, district officials said Tuesday.

“We would like to maintain a living wage and stay in this valley and be able to provide for our family just as anybody else does,” said Leslie Littman, president of the Hart District Teachers Association.

While talks of increasing class sizes and issuing furlough days are on the bargaining table, a major stumbling block in contract negotiations has been health benefits for teachers.

The association’s last proposal to the district involved maintaining the current health plan where the district pays 100 percent of the health costs for employees. In the meantime, district officials would explore other health care providers to see if a cheaper option is available, she said.

“If the district was willing to agree to that, we would have had a deal before school got out,” Littman said.

Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said talks of a benefit cap would have come up because the district’s health care costs continue to increase.

“We are the only district in the valley that has no cap,” Castellanos said.

On top of skyrocketing health care costs, the Hart district is facing deep cuts from the state.

While the district expects to maintain a balanced budget for the 2009-10 budget year, Castellanos anticipates a $14 million shortfall for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 fiscal years.

Even though Hart district officials have escaped making deep cuts to athletics and specialized academic programs for the upcoming year, that could change.

“Right now, beyond next year, we can’t balance our budget unless we make some pretty drastic cuts,” Castellanos said.

Before the impasse was declared on June 12, the district and teachers association, representing more than 1,000 Hart district teachers, were negotiating class-size increases, increasing the number of students for school counselors and issuing furlough days in addition to the benefits cap.

Two paid professional development days scheduled for the 2009-10 school year have already been eliminated due to a lack of funding, Littman said.

The district wants to impose another furlough day, she said.

The counselor ratio would increase from one counselor to every 350 students to one counselor for every 380 students at a school site, she said.

The district is also proposing that teachers teach an additional period of class.

The next step involves bringing a third-party mediator, which won’t happen until the start of the 2009-10 school year in the fall, Littman said.

Castellanos hopes a mediator will be available in the next two or three weeks.

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