School district, teachers at impasse on salary deal; Mediation next step

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As reported previously, the Hemet Unified School District and its teachers are trying to negotiate a new salary schedule. However, the private negotiations reached an impasse. Both HUSD and the Hemet Teachers Association agreed to the next step — mediation — which will occur in May.

The differences in the salary proposals have not been made public.

After issuing a press release on March 29, announcing the impasse and the mediation as the next step, district officials were unwilling to discuss the salary issue.

On the afternoon of March 31, in response to a question from the Town Crier about the salary differences, Alexandrea Cass, HUSD public information officer,
replied, “At this time, I am unable to share the specific numbers due to the fact that we are not [sic] formally at impasse.”

In contrast, William Valenzuela, HTA president said, the association had “agreed to go to impasse after the district made it clear they were unwilling to make HTA a priority in their budget and move off their final offer for salary. We were disappointed bargaining broke down when we discussed salary after we had worked hard to have a collaborative relationship.”

HTA requested a 4-percent increase across the board. According to Valenzuela, “… Hemet’s salary, in comparison to neighboring districts, was lower than average for teachers just settling in for the middle of their careers … We have seen so many teachers and professionals move out of the valley, we hoped that this would help stem the high turnover rate in HUSD.”

HUSD offered a 1-percent increase and eventually raised that to 1.25 percent. This increase would be effective April 1, although HTA members have been working without a contract since July 1, 2016.

“We found this insulting,” Valenzuela wrote. Thus, the need for mediation, which is not the first time the two parties have had to rely on the third party to achieve an agreement.

In 2015, HUSD and HTA reached a mediated settlement that provided an 8-percent salary increase effective July 1, 2014. Another 2-percent increase became effective July 1, 2015, as well as some health and welfare benefit increases. These increases cost the district about $12 million annually.

HUSD does have a multi-million-dollar reserve, which HTA believes is “over and beyond what the state requires.” But Valenzuela believes that after the governor issues the May revision for the state budget, HUSD will have a firmer idea of what state funding is coming to it. With a better understanding of future funding, he hopes the district will make an improved salary offer.

“We think the state budget is in good order,” Valenzuela opined. “The recent tax increase for roads will alleviate an impact on educational funding.”

The salary dispute is a surprise since HUSD and HTA have agreed to several issues this winter and spring. Both groups were in agreement on class sizes for the current school year, the teachers’ schedule at Alessandro High School for the next two school years, staffing for special education and agreement on late start, and early release days for administrative meetings for the next two years.

“While I am sorry to see negotiations go to impasse, I am confident that, with the help of a mediator, we can reach an agreement. The negotiations thus far have been productive and amicable, and I hope that continues,” said Vic Scavarda, HUSD board president and Idyllwild representative.

While disappointed that mediation is necessary, Valenzuela is still optimistic that HTA and HUSD will find agreement. HTA’s goal is to “keep our salaries up with inflation,” otherwise, “[I]t will become increasingly difficult to attract educators to this valley, and keep them in our schools. About one-third of our entire Association has only been with Hemet three years or less. This type of turnover is impossible to sustain if you are trying to build a community.”

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