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Protests prompt police presence at Ceres Unified board meeting
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The protest started outside and moved into the lobby of the Ceres Unified School District headquarters just after 4 p.m. on Monday, May 24.

As district and union representatives participated in a fact-finding hearing behind closed doors, teachers voiced opposition to proposed pay cuts.

The disruption, coupled with swirling rumors, prompted CUSD to request for police presence during Thursday night's Ceres School Board meeting at Central Valley High School.

"It was a total surprise," said Cheryl Brewer, president of the Ceres Unified Teachers Association. "Apparently, they thought we were going to take some kind of action. All we did was come to have a peaceful protest and question the board. We're trying to help the district solve the problem. I can't imagine what's going to go on next. I'm still hopeful there's going to be a resolution. A strike will not benefit anyone."

"We saw what they did on Monday and were told by people that they were going to disrupt Thursday's meeting," Ceres Unified Supt. Walt Hanline said. "We were prepared. The police were there to make sure the meeting didn't get out of hand."

"We just wanted to keep everyone safe," Ceres School Board member Mike Welsh said.

CUSD and CUTA entered the fact-finding stage of negotiations after a state-appointed mediator's efforts proved fruitless.

The district is seeking salary concessions in 2010-11 to offset a projected $5.5 million funding shortfall. To prevent layoffs and cuts to student programs, CUSD proposed an 8.5 percent across-the-board pay cut.

"We are more than willing to pay our fair share," Brewer said. "But fair share means proportionality. Not 8.5 percent for everyone but dividing the burden up evenly by group. Our salaries are 44 percent of all salaries, which translates to a 5.4 percent cut. Your single-minded belief that the 8.5 percent pay cut is the only option is about to send our district into a crisis far bigger than the financial one we already face. Our goal is to not bankrupt the district or take away your local control. That doesn't benefit anyone. Our goal is to give our fair share and be compensated for it."

"I don't blame them for being angry," Hanline said. "But the facts are clear. We need 8.5 percent. The issue is what concessions we're willing to give them. The critical thing is the kids should not suffer."

"We value all of our district's employees," Welsh said. "But we have a responsibility to protect our kids. We're trying to come up with a solution that doesn't impact them. That's our No. 1 obligation. We just want to get a deal done. We want to move forward."

CUTA proposed taking a 5.4 percent pay cut and shortening the school year from 180 days to 175. The union suggested adding 10 minutes to each school day to make up for the extra days off.

"I think the kids will be just fine (with longer school days)," Brewer said. "It's a great value. There are many times I'm teaching when the bell goes off and I wish I had a couple of minutes to finish my lessons."

"That doesn't make any educational sense," Hanline said. "Both kids and teachers are exhausted at the end of the day."

A non-binding fact-finding report will be published no later than June 24. The recommendation can be accepted or rejected by either party.

CUSD and CUTA representatives are required to hold one more negotiation session prior to imposing or striking.

"It's unfortunate it got to this point," said Welsh. "We're not going to be like other districts. We're not going to sell our kids short. All seven board members are united in that we are committed to no layoffs and cuts to students programs. We want them (CUTA) to take the same deal CSEA took. Hopefully, we'll reach some sort of agreement."

"We are more than willing to take our fair share but we want something in return," noted Brewer. "For what they've offered, it's not worth 8.5 percent."