After several weeks of stalled negotiations between the Lake Elsinore Unified School District and the Lake Elsinore Teachers Association, the two entities came together Thursday and ironed out a tentative agreement that will significantly reduce the number of layoffs.
The agreement will shave nearly $5.8 million off the district’s projected budget shortfall of $19.9 million for 2010-2011. Overall, it will reduce the budget by 7.03 percent, representing a 4.86 percent salary reduction for teachers in the form of furlough days. If passed by LETA members, two non-student budget reduction days would be taken on May 27-28; there would be five less student days next year and two less staff development days. It also includes a temporary class-size increase of two students per class in grades six through 12.
“I’m very pleased that we were able to reach this agreement. It took both sides compromising to some extent to put together what I think is a very fair deal,” said Superintendent Frank W. Passarella in a written statement.
“It also took the leadership of our board president, Tom Thomas, and the LETA bargaining chair, Debbie Small, to make this happen. They are the reason we were able to reach this agreement,” Passarella said.
According to district spokesman Jose Carvajal, the two parties worked for several hours Thursday and reached an agreement shortly before a regularly scheduled board meeting that evening.
“We began negotiating with LETA last week on several items that are not budget-related and they presented us with an offer. We didn’t negotiate it at the time, but we did bring it to Tom Thomas, our board president. He felt we should try to work out a deal because we were so close,” Carvajal said.
In February, the district called an impasse with LETA after the union did not readily accept an 8 percent pay reduction. Since then, union members attended board meetings in force, pleading with the district to come back to the table and restart negotiations. LETA President Terry Harris said the association’s main goal has been to minimize economic damage to its members after over 200 teachers were given pink slips.
A public mediator was scheduled to meet with the district and LETA at the end of this month.
Harris said the willingness to restart negotiations was “a demonstration of goodwill from the district after an unfortunate long-term distrust of each other.”
“We decided we weren’t going to be negative about it anymore, so we started organizing our members; we wore black on Thursdays and even some of the parents starting wearing black. We sought help from our parents, who followed through by e-mailing board members, asking them to come back to the table,” Harris said.
The next step, he said, is to educate the association members about the agreement. Then voting members will be given a five-day window to approve or disapprove the agreement.
“There are a lot of things in there that help the district bring the budget down,” Harris said.
Carvajal said the agreement significantly reduces the number of layoffs.
“We don’t know yet exactly how many, but it will be a significantly smaller layoff,” Carvajal said.
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