"Both sides made a commitment to be open-minded and to settle our differences as soon as possible," Lara said.
However, he added he would like to see the district not start with a 0 percent increase in future negotiations.
"We don't like to play those kinds of games," he said.
Trustee Reynaldo Ayala said starting at 0 percent is a negotiating strategy.
"Zero percent is not too logical, but it is a starting point," he said, adding it is a "beginning to talk about what is possible."
The El Centro Elementary Teachers Association and district have been battling over contract issues for the last two years, with the district declaring impasse in January 2000.
The El Centro Elementary Teachers Association is asking for a 5.4 percent retroactive salary increase for the 1999-2000 contract, a 13 percent retroactive salary increase for the 2000-2001 contract, a 1.87 percent increase for three added contract days for the 2001-2002 school year, and full benefits paid for by the district.
The district is offering a 4 percent salary increase retroactive to January of 2000 for the 1999-2000 contract, a 5 percent salary increase for the 2000-2001 contract, a 1.75 percent increase for the three added contract days to the 2001-2002 school year, and a 2.35 percent increase in benefits.
The base salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree at El Centro Elementary is $29,841. This would increase to $32,587 under the district's 2000-2001 proposal and to $33,157 under the 2001-2002 proposal.
The highest salary step under the schedule for a teacher holding both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree is $63,218. That would increase to $69,034 under the district's 2000-2001 proposal and to $70,242 under the 2001-2002 proposal.
Other issues being debated mainly involve contract language changes.
Trustee Dianna Newton said the issues have not changed over the past few years.
Bruce Roberts, president of the El Centro Teachers' Association, said: "We would be willing to go back to the table to negotiate if the association felt like there was a chance to resolve the issues before fact-finding."
However, Roberts said he wasn't sure if one side would have to make a concession in order to get back to the negotiating table.
Newton said, "We've always been willing to sit down and talk and negotiate."
"I had hoped mediation would do it," said Glenice Waters, the California Teachers' Association representative, of settling the contract.
Waters said teachers are concerned about losing teachers and not being able to find certified replacement teachers for those who do choose to leave.
"They're concerned about the hard feelings that are developing between everyone," Waters said.
She said teachers are wondering how they will be able to get back to a "healthy working relationship with the administration, the board and fellow employees."
Newton said she thinks in order for a settlement to be reached "both sides have to come together and come to a consensus. Anytime there's bargaining there has to be give and take on both sides."
Newton added that the board's biggest concern is the possibility of a strike.
"We hope to avoid the issue. That is my strongest desire."
She added, "Our primary concern is for the children and their education."
Joining in the contract fray is the Brawley Elementary School District, which has not yet declared impasse but is conducting difficult contract negotiations.
The Brawley Elementary Teachers' Association is asking for an 11 percent salary increase.
Liz Huff, Brawley Elementary Teachers' Association president, said its negotiators were told the benefits package of the current contract was non-negotiable and would have to remain at $360 per month per employee.
Brawley elementary teachers are also negotiating lottery funds, extended contract days, extended instructional hours and standards for teacher evaluations.