WATSONVILLE — Negotiations between Pajaro Valley Unified School District and Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers fell through for the second time in as many months Tuesday after a state-appointed negotiator failed to help the sides reach an agreement.
The union and the district will now proceed to fact-finding, in which a three-person panel studies the issues and makes a final recommendation to the district’s Board of Trustees, which has the power to impose a contract.
When the trustees make their decision, the union can choose to accept it, or go on strike, said PVFT Chief Negotiator Jack Carroll.
The panel will be composed of one union member, one district employee and a new state negotiator.
The union and district have been negotiating since spring, largely focusing on salary increases, reductions to class sizes for kindergarten through third-grade and preparation time for elementary school teachers.
PVFT officials say the district’s contract proposal Tuesday did not offer class size reduction, stripped away teachers’ two-hour preparation time and added two hours per month of unpaid meeting time.
In fact, the district offered “a commitment to reduce” K-3 class sizes to a maximum of 24 to 1 over the next three years, assuming that state funding allows it under the new Local Control Funding Formula.
According Carroll, the language — particularly the word “commitment” — is not enforceable, and would not allow the union to file a grievance if the district did not decrease class size.
The district rejected a Memorandum of Understanding that would approve a 7 percent pay increase while they hammer out the other issues.
The district expressed concern that union members would be able to vote on the MOU, but Carroll said the move was intended solely to allow talks to continue.
“It would have restarted the clock in negotiations and brought us out of impasse,” he said.
The district offered a 7 percent salary increase, the same offer it made during September negotiations and which the union has described as inadequate.
Carroll said such an increase would cost PVUSD approximately $4 million, and pointed out the district currently has a $47 million ending balance.
But district officials disagree.
PVUSD Chief Business Officer Brett McFadden said that $28 million of that is a reserve critically important to help it weather economic problems.
PVUSD says honoring all PVFT’s demands would immediately shackle the district with millions in ongoing expenses.
Finally, the district offered teachers 90 minutes of “release time,” during which they would be given a break during the school day by another teacher to allow them time to prepare lessons.
But that item came at the expense of a two-hour preparation time on Wednesdays, when students are released early, Carroll said.
The district’s offer included a requirement that teachers attend “not more than two hours of staff meetings per beyond the regular work week per month.”
Union officials expressed concern that the Wednesday slot would be filled with staff meetings, but PVUSD assistant superintendent for human resources Sharon Roddick said the contract simply leaves open the time slot for any activity, including staff meetings and preparation time.
After the sides reached an impasse on Sept. 20, they agreed to allow a state mediator come in to guide the talks. They met on Oct. 18 and 28 but failed to come to an agreement.
Both union and district officials said they expect the fact-finding to finish before winter break.
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