Sweetwater District, teachers' union remain at odds

SAN DIEGO - Following months of negotiations, Sweetwater Union High School District officials announced Thursday that they are close to an agreement with the teachers’ union, a claim that some teachers vehemently denied, as the war of words between the two sides continued.

 “We've met all their issues, salary, class size and benefits,” District Superintendent Ed Brand said at a news conference today.
 
“That is a flat out lie,” teacher Helen Farias told 10News. “They did not meet all of our sticking points.”

“That's what we've been dealing with for the last year; deception, lies, regressive bargaining,” teacher Jason Leichter added.
 
Those three sticking points have been salary, health care, and class sizes. The latest offer by the district included a 2 percent raise, retroactive to January, and another 3 percent raise starting in July.

The proposal also allegedly includes increasing health care contributions by 25 percent. However, teachers said that is not accurate. The union reportedly reached a deal last October, but said the district now wants to change it. The Sweetwater Education Association (SEA) also point out that this amount would be locked in for the full extent of the three-year contract. It worries health care costs will continue to rise but the district's contributions will not.

The district wants to decrease class size by one student, but teachers say the decrease needs to be closer to 10.

 “Right now if you go into any classroom you will not see 31 students, you will see upwards of 40 students,” said Roberto Rodriguez, president of the SEA.
 
The union rejected this latest offer, pointing out that it has been making concessions for six years to help the district get through the battered economy.
 
Brand and two school board members attended today’s news conference with rolled up sleeping bags.

“We've offered to meet 24/7, 365 until we get this done,” Brand said. “That's why we got sleeping bags. I've got my overnight kit.”

Teachers called the sleeping bags nothing more than a dog and pony show.
 
 “It's interesting to see the sense of urgency they feel now,” Rodriguez said. “It's sad that it took a strike authorization to get them to this point.”
 
The union cannot meet again with the district again until April 8 because some members are on spring break vacation.

Last week, 92 percent of SEA's 1,443 teachers voted in favor of a strike. Teachers have been working without a contract for several months, and negotiations have been ongoing since October without any success.

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