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Calipatria teachers, school district at impasse

May 03, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH

Staff Writer

Contract negotiations between the Calipatria Unified Teachers Association and the Calipatria Unified School District have reached impasse.

However, the paperwork is on the table for a mediator to be assigned in an attempt to bring both parties back to the negotiating table.

"Our members are totally frustrated," explained CUTA chief negotiator George Ainsworth in an interview Tuesday.

"Our teachers are the lowest paid in the county," Ainsworth said. "If you look at a salary comparison with all the other school districts in the county, we're at the bottom — we rank 16 out of 16."

Negotiations started in early October, and over nine sessions the teachers' association offered eight proposals and counter-proposals.

The only area of agreement is that both parties are agreeing to a two-year contract for the teachers.

"That's something the district wants and we're willing to agree to it," Ainsworth said.

The areas where no agreement has been reached are:

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· salary

· fringe benefits

· working hours

· calendar

Ainsworth said association members view the district's efforts at negotiating the contract as being "surface bargaining."

"By surface bargaining I mean it appears as though the district is merely appearing to be going through the motions of bargaining — they just hand materials back and forth across the table," Ainsworth explained.

In a last-ditch attempt to get negotiations back on track, local executive director of the California Teachers Association, Ernie Bristow, will meet this week with both parties and try to bring them back to the table.

Bristow is hoping consensus between the parties can be achieved because, in his words, "It's not good this is happening this late in the school year but I'm hoping with willing participants we can get a settlement. If a settlement is available it will be good for everyone."

Calipatria Unified School District Superintendent James Hanks said he thinks negotiations are stalemated at this stage.

"It's not adversarial but I see it as being at an impasse," Hanks said Thursday.

Hanks said he views declining student enrollment numbers as being the district's "biggest problem."

"Over a five-year period we've lost 285 enrollments and that translates into a lot of lost dollars for the district," Hanks added.

Aside from the teachers' woes with failed contract negotiations, Ainsworth says many in his organization feel the children in the Calipatria school system are being "shortchanged" by a shortage of fully qualified teachers.

"They (the district) have only hired two fully qualified teachers that I know of over the last five years … there is waiver after waiver here and it has become routine. Many of these teachers are very good teachers but I think the kids and their parents are getting shortchanged," Ainsworth said.

"This waiver business has become far more routine in our district than in other districts … we've become a training ground for other districts in the county and it's not fair to our students."

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or dingo87@earthlink.net

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