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Our Opinion: ECESD-A few suggestions

April 28, 2001

The saddest thing about the uglier and uglier dispute between the El Centro Elementary School District board and its teachers is there are fine and reasonable people in positions of power on both sides.

Unfortunately, there are those on both sides of the issue who are not reasonable, or who left reasonability long ago in this protracted dispute. They may be the ones getting in the way of getting this mess settled before a teachers' strike shuts down the district in the fall.

The district is set to go into the "fact finding" stage of the negotiations process soon. We are not terribly optimistic about that. Binding arbitration may be the only answer, but before we get to that, having talked extensively to both sides, we'd like to make a few suggestions.

We'd like to the see the teachers take the nice if not overwhelming raise offered by the school district. The pay scale already is a good one and the raises would make it even better.

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We do suggest, however, that the district make the entire raise fully retroactive, instead of partially (or more like minimally) retroactive as is now proposed. Fully retroactive pay raises for the length of time a unit has gone without a contract are the norm in public sector negotiations, and we see no compelling reason that the ECESD should break from the norm.

We think the teachers would agree to those salary terms. One would think that would mean the hard stuff has been settled, but in this dispute such is not the case. The issue of language changes in the teachers' contract is a more contentious issue, it appears.

Teachers say that language changes in a contract that has been in place for more than 20 years are unnecessary. They think they should be treated like the dedicated professionals they are and not be required in the contract to be at events such as open houses. The school board must realize the district employs some of the best teachers in the Imperial Valley and the state, and that the future of the Valley lies in the hands of those teachers. Those teachers must be treated with trust and respect.

The other side of the issue, the management side of the issue, is contract language, particularly, when dealing with unions, is drawn up for the worst employees, the ones who will find every nook and cranny in which to hide, the one of 30 teachers at a school site who will not show up for open house or anything else because that person is not required to be there.

Here is are suggestion. If the district is going to require teachers be at such events, payment for those hours might just be required.

Those are a few suggestions to get out of this quagmire that is turning into quicksand. If that doesn't work, binding arbitration might be the only answer, even if it is not part of the official process. When a process doesn't work, it is time to get rid of that process.

We are reaching that stage.

Other local labor disputes have come to fruitful and satisfying ends in recent weeks, including in the Calexico Unified School District and a particularly bitter one between the city of Brawley and its police officers.

So there is hope if people work sincerely toward an agreement. For the sake of our future and our Valley, it is time for that sincerity in the El Centro Elementary School District.

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