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Alpine Teachers Plan Strike After Contract Negotiations Fail With District

Alpine teachers will go on strike Thursday morning, due to failed contract negotiations with the school district, according to the Alpine Teachers Association.

This will be the first teachers' strike in San Diego County in about 18 years.

The Alpine Teachers Association members authorized a strike last month, then rejected an agreement reached by negotiators at the end of January. The decision to move forward with the strike comes after the Alpine Union School District leaders presented a proposal at Tuesday’s negotiations that the teachers’ union said was similar to the one already struck down.

AUSD Superintendent Tweets About Failed Negotiations

Above: Tom Pellegrino, the superintendent of the Alpine Union School District tweets about the school district's failed contract negotiations with the Alpine Teachers Association.

Contract negotiations have been going on for more than a year in Alpine. A state fact finder was called in last fall after those negotiations reached an impasse. The deal teachers voted down earlier this month would have cut salaries next year by 6.58 percent and capped the district’s contribution to health benefits at $9,000 a year. The last, best offer the district made before impasse included a 7.58 percent cut and capped the benefit contribution at $8,000.

District staff took a 4.73 percent pay cut for each of the three years leading up to the current school year and do not currently make any contribution to health benefits for themselves or their dependents.

Gayle Malone, president of the Alpine Teachers Association, wasn't surprised that her union's members rejected the latest deal. She said the state fact finder found the district could do better – including making a higher benefit contribution and a smaller pay cut that would start immediately.

“If the fact finder said they could afford a $12,000 cap in health benefits and a 4.73 we don’t see any reason why they can’t do that," she said.

But the fact finder’s report from November also advised the district to prepare to lay off 10 of its about 90 teachers next year. It also assumed the district would have a reserve fund equal to 3 percent of its operating budget.

A small district like Alpine needs a bigger reserve fund to be financially stable, according to Tom Pellegrino, Alpine Union superintendent. He said the district's board members have a policy of carrying an 8 percent reserve.

Layoffs aren't an option district leaders are willing to consider either, he said. It would add about six students to each classroom, according to Pellegrino. He believes that would only speed up the decline in student enrollment that helped put the district in this financial bind in the first place.

“What we do have is the willingness to say 'Let’s look at these numbers together, let’s try to come to an understanding that these are the real numbers,'" Pellegrino said. "And if more money comes in, we are happy to give it to you.”

The deal teachers rejected earlier this month included restoring 2 percent of cut pay next year if school districts receive as much state funding as Gov. Jerry Brown proposed in his January budget.

School districts face budget development deadlines in December, March and May, even though the state doesn't vote on a final spending plan until June. Until a budget is in place, districts must use projections provided by the County Office of Education to plan for the coming year.

Malone of the teachers' union said the district’s proposals aimed to build a financial reserve by short changing teachers.

Alpine is not alone in arguing for deep cuts right now. The San Ysidro Elementary School District may not be able to pay its bills before the school year is up and is proposing 8 percent salary cuts for teachers in each of the next three years. The district and the teachers union have their third meeting with a state mediator later this month.

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