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Teachers protest cuts
Music blared from a loudspeaker. Hands gripped signs. Motorists honked their horns.

On Wednesday, more than 200 teachers assembled at all four corners of the intersection at Hatch and Mitchell roads for an hour-long rally protesting proposed pay cuts.

Ceres Unified School District leaders are seeking concessions that would reduce teachers' salaries by 8.5 percent in fiscal year 2010-11 to help close a projected $5.5 million budget gap.

"We'd like to have a voice in solving the problem," said Ceres Unified Teachers Association President Cheryl Brewer. "They told us our ideas were drops in the bucket that would not add up. We have a right and responsibility to protect our members."

However, CUSD Supt. Walt Hanline said CUTA leaders were inciting its members.

"I'm disappointed the union leadership has chosen to incite its members when it has failed to even provide a proposal on salary," commented Hanline. "We don't know what their position is. We clearly stated ours. We don't want to lay off people and cut programs. My hope would be the members of the union realize the district has been very willing to negotiate."

CUTA, which represents 617 employees, and CUSD leaders both offered differing accounts of how contract talks broke down.

The district submitted contract proposals at negotiation meetings on Jan. 26 and Feb. 17 according to Hanline.

When mediation failed on March 16, a fact-finding panel was appointed to help both sides reach an accord. CUSD and CUTA presented their cases on Monday and a public report will be released within the next 30 days.

"Our understanding is they're going to impose the 8.5 percent cut no matter what the report says," CTUA lead negotiator and longtime CHS art teacher Nancy Oudegeest said. "I think that's unfortunate because there are other cost-saving alternatives."

"We gave them a whole list of suggestions in things we can do to save money instead of 8.5 percent salary cuts," said Joyce Amato, one of CUTA's six negotiators and a seventh grade science teacher at Mae Hensley Jr. High School.

"We believe the facts support the position the district and school board have taken to not lay off our staff, cut our programs and punish our students in this economic time," Hanline said. "The alternative being asked is for staff to take an 8.5 salary reduction. It's a painful sacrifice."

"I have a feeling some of my teachers are going to look for supplemental employment," Brewer said. "That means they're not going to have extra time to spend with their students. I never foresaw a time when politics and economy would come down so hard on education."

When asked why CUTA never submitted a counter proposal during negotiations, Brewer said: "There was a legal dispute on what parts of the contract are open. We felt salary was closed. They disagreed."

CUTA filed an unfair labor practice charge against CUSD.

Hanline called the move a stalling tactic.

"The union negotiators have created a strategy of refusing to talk salary," he said. "Now, there are consequences for that. I hope their members hold them accountable for their failure to negotiate in good faith."

"We're not going to proceed until we know what the legal outcome is," Brewer said.

The Ceres chapter of the California School Employees Association, which represents 513 workers, ratified a contract agreement with CUSD on May 6. CSEA voted to accept an 8.5 percent salary cut, part of which could be given back if the budget improves.

There will be no layoffs for classified-filled positions during the 2010-11 school year.

The deal offers four furlough days for 12-month employees and three furlough days for 10-month employees.

The district will increase its contribution for employee-only health and welfare benefits to $459.

"The CSEA agreement shows the district is willing to give and take," Hanline said.

"That particular offer hasn't been offered to us," Oudugeest said. "It doesn't go far enough."

Central Valley High School science/chemistry teacher Megan Uhrich expressed concern at last Wednesday's rally while holding a sign that read: "Give and take. Not take, take, take."

"That's the message we're trying to send," she said.

When provided details of CSEA's contract agreement with CUSD, Uhrich said: "That would be something we'd be willing to talk about. We'd take an 8.5 percent cut if we were given something in return."

A portion of CUTA's press release from last week stated that, "Ceres teachers have now gone without a contract for 688 days. In the meantime, Superintendent Walt Hanline received a $3,000 raise, an additional week of paid vacation and five fewer work days. Other administrators will continue receiving car allowances, expense accounts and trips paid for by taxpayers."

"Nothing they're saying is creative," Hanline countered. "It's designed to cloud the issue. The union leadership is distorting the reality to its members. That's a fact. If CUTA is serious about resolving the issue, we're here. They need to make a proposal."

"Everything they (CUTA members) are receiving is factual," Brewer said. "I'm sure they (CUSD leaders) have a different point of view but it doesn't make what we say false."

"We're trying to do what's best for all these teachers," Oudegeest said. "Ultimately, what's best for teachers, is what's best for students, When you have a positive teacher, they take it in the classroom."

The Ceres School Board voted unanimously on Jan. 21 to adopt a resolution that decreases salary of administrators, classified management and confidential employees by 8.5 percent effective July 1, 2010.