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Alpine Teachers, District Head Back To Bargaining Table

Teachers from the Alpine Union School District on strike after failed contract negotiations, Feb. 20, 2014.

Aired 2/21/14 on KPBS News.

Alpine Union School District's 91 teachers hit the picket lines Thursday after salary negotiations failed.

ALPINE — Negotiators for the Alpine Teachers Association and the Alpine Union School District are back at the negotiating table Friday, according to the district superintendent's office.

Superintendent Tom Pellegrino was in a closed session meeting late Friday morning preparing to return to bargaining, according to his assistant.

Alpine Union School District's 91 teachers went on strike Thursday after contract negotiations stalled on Tuesday.

The district, which has an operating budget of about $14.7 million, imposed a contract at the end of January that cuts teach pay by 7.58 percent and caps the district's contribution to employees' health benefits for the first time, setting the limit at $8,000 annually. Teachers had taken a 4.73 percent pay cut each of the last three years under their previous contract. That cut was restored at this fall when that contract expired. The district's average health contribution had been $13,500, with teachers contributing zero.

Negotiations stalled Tuesday when district leaders and teachers could not reach a new agreement. The district is proposing reducing the teachers' pay cut to 6.58 percent, with the possibility of another 3-percent reduction if funding included in Gov. Jerry Brown's January budget proposal comes through. That proposal would also increase the district's benefits contribution to $8,500.

Teachers believe the district can do better. A state fact finder recommended continuing a 4.73 percent salary cut for this year and capping the benefits contribution at $12,000. Those recommendations included preparing to layoff 10 teachers next fall.

In front of Alpine Elementary School, approximately 20 teachers carried signs Thursday morning urging people to call the school board. They were joined by Alpine Teachers Association President Gayle Malone, who said the district spent more than it could afford, "like on a credit card."

"Now [the board is] trying to pay it back on the backs of teachers," she said.

An example of this, she said, was the addition of a new vice principal at Joan McQueen Middle School, when the institution already had an adequate administrative staff in place. She also pointed to spending on school security measures that she said were costly and over zealous.

Pellegrino countered that the cuts imposed on teachers at the end of January came after years of the district tightening its belt away from classrooms.

"he priority has been on teachers, the priority has been the fact that we spend more money on teachers in benefits and salary per student than any other elementary school district in San Diego County before the unilateral implementation,” he said.

In an interview with KPBS media partner 10News Thursday morning, Pellegrino said hewas waiting for the teachers union to come back to the negotiation table.

"A strike is where the teachers are in the driver's seat," he said. "If we had the money, we would fulfill their proposal. We simply do not."

The district said it hired 122 substitute teachers to keep schools open for the 1,700 students in Alpine.

10News contributed to this reporting

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