Bonta credited with mediating tentative teacher contract

by Michele Ellson | Thursday, Feb 28, 2013

Alameda’s teachers are set to vote on a tentative contract deal negotiated with the aid of state Assemblyman Rob Bonta.

School district and union leaders praised Bonta’s volunteer mediation of the long-running contract dispute in press releases issued late Thursday night and Friday morning. Neither the details of the plan nor a vote date have been released, though the district’s press release says the agreement could be approved by the school board at the first meeting it holds after the Alameda Education Association’s 524 members have their say.

“After 10 months of negotiating and 24 bargaining sessions – some into the early morning hours – I am pleased to announce that we have finally reached a tentative agreement with the school district,” union president President Gray Harris was quoted as saying in a press release issued just over an hour after the tentative deal was reached, at 9:30 p.m. Thursday.

In addition to thanking Bonta, Harris praised teachers and members of other unions who attended a rally in advance of Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting at City Hall.

Board of Education President Nielsen Tam and Bonta thanked union and district leaders for their work toward completing the agreement.

“As Board President, I appreciate the professionalism, perseverance, and creativity of Superintendent Vital and AUSD staff in continuing to overcome obstacles on the long, difficult path we have traveled to arrive at this agreement,” Tam was quoted as saying in the release. “Thank you to Gray Harris, AEA President, and to the members of both bargaining teams for all they have done to reach this agreement.”

District and union leaders were set to head into mediation on Monday after all-night settlement talks the parties engaged in earlier this week ended without an agreement. The union asked a state board to declare that negotiations were at an impasse on February 8 after talks over pay broke down.

The teachers’ union had sought a 4.5 percent raise; the district’s most recent offer was a 2.5 percent raise. Union leaders have long maintained that the district can afford the raises they have sought, citing the $21 million in reserves and fund balance listed in its unaudited financials from the 2011-2012 school year, while district leaders have raised concerns about their financial position in the face of the possibility they may need to give back up to $7.4 million in parcel taxes. The district lost a case over the structure of the tax in a state appellate court, though that decision is being reconsidered.

Shortly after the teachers’ rally, Damon Smith, the Alameda County Office of Education’s associate superintendent for business services, told the school board their budget projections must reflect the potential payout of up to $7.4 million they collected from commercial property owners under Measure H. In a January 29 letter to the district, the office’s executive director for district business and advisory services said the district needs to come up with a contingency plan to address a possible repayment.

“We assume the District would use existing reserves in Fund 17 for repayment purposes. If this is not the case, or if other contingency plans are in place, please let us know,” Potter wrote.

Negotiations reached an impasse during the last school year over the suspension of class size reductions that ended with a temporary class size and calendar deal reached just as the school year closed. Teachers rejected a full agreement in March 2012, citing frustrations over what they saw as an inadequate pay increase and a lack of trust in the administration.