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Fact-finding starts in E.C. teacher, district dispute

May 09, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

The next step in the contract negotiation process between the El Centro Elementary School District and its teachers' association, a fact-finding hearing, began Tuesday and will continue June 18.

Ron Hull, president of the ECESD Board of Trustees, said the delay in the next hearing is the result of a conflict in schedules of the fact-finding panel members.

Hull said, "We're a little disappointed in that regard, but the process takes what it takes."

He added, "The doors are always open in the interim" to continue negotiations.

Negotiations between the two parties may legally continue during or after the fact-finding hearing.

Michael Klentschy, ECESD superintendent, explained the fact-finding process.

Fact-finding, administered by the state Public Employee Relations Board, occurs after mediation with a state mediator has proved unsuccessful.

Negotiators with the district and the association met with a state mediator to try to resolve the contract dispute in February.


After a compromise could not be reached, the district notified the mediator and requested the fact-finding process. Either party may request the state mediator recommend the fact-finding process to PERB.

A list of seven names of potential fact-finding panel members is submitted to each side from PERB.

Each party must strike three names off the list; the final name becomes the neutral party in the fact-finding panel.

The fact-finding panel is made up of one member of a neutral party, one member from the district and one member from the teachers' association.

The panel receives written statements about the issues from each side of the dispute.

Both sides then submit written arguments to the panel supporting their positions.

The fact-finding panel conducts a hearing, during which both sides present their case in oral arguments to the panel.

It is up to the neutral panel member regarding how long the oral arguments last.

Expert witnesses may be brought in to support each position.

Fact-finding hearings usually last about two days.

The goal of fact-finding is to get the three-member committee to make a recommendation to PERB in favor of one position.

Once the fact-finding hearing has concluded, the panel must issue its written recommendations to Perb within 30 days.

The recommendations made to the board are not binding.

Once the recommendations have been received from each side, the parties have 10 days to try to reach a settlement through negotiations.

If no settlement has been reached at the end of the 10 days, two actions can be taken: the teachers' association can legally declare a strike, and/or the district can unilaterally implement its last best offer.

Negotiations will continue until a settlement is reached, even if there is a strike.

Klentschy said, "The Board of Trustees believes their offer is fair. We hope as a result of fact- finding, a settlement will be achieved. We relish the opportunity to present our side to a neutral panel and look forward to their recommendations."

Klentschy added, "Our objective is to achieve a settlement before the end of the school year."

Hull said most of the fact-finding discussion, the "heavy detail on the numbers," has concluded.

"They're handling it issue by issue," Hull said.

He added the next session will involve discussion about contract language.

In a prepared press release, Bruce Roberts, president of the teachers' association, blasted the district for not doing enough to prevent a strike.

"Our hard-working teachers in the El Centro Elementary School District have been without a contract for nearly two years, but the board and the administration apparently think that's not long enough, and would rather set the stage for a strike than keep one from ever happening," Roberts stated.

Teachers conducted a rally prior to the school board meeting Tuesday night.

Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.

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