Easy Reader Staff

School district and teachers reach early agreement

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Teachers in the Manhattan Beach School District are hoping for a raise, the first since 2007. Photo by Alene Tchekmedyian

Manhattan Beach teacher and student. Photo by Alene Tchekmedyian

The Manhattan Beach Unified School District and the teachers’ union reached a tentative agreement for the 2014-2015 school year on Nov. 3, three months after the school year started, but about six months earlier than has been the norm in recent years.

The agreement, which isn’t final, raises wages for teachers retroactively to July 1 and moves up the calendar for the 2016-2017 school year.

The members of the Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association have already approved the contract. Now the county and the district’s board of trustees must also approve it before it becomes final. The district plans to present the agreement to the board at the Dec. 10 board meeting.

The negotiations, which took five full days, come in the wake of the Aug. 29 ruling by the state’s labor relations board that the district violated the law governing collective bargaining for California public school employees by failing to provide financial documents in a timely manner that the Teachers Association requested to help it bargain. The Teachers Association filed an unfair practices complaint against the district with the Public Employment Relations Board last year in April. The board held a hearing in May of this year, and then ordered the district to provide the Teachers Association with the information it requested and to post a notice of its violation.

Shawn Chen, the president of the Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association and an English teacher at Mira Costa High School, attributed the quick turnaround to the pressure on the district from the ruling.

“There’s been a rising awareness among the public that teachers have the right to information that the district was trying to withhold from us,” she said.

However Superintendent Michael Matthews, who also sat in on the negotiations, said that the ruling wasn’t a factor.

“Every year we have wanted to settle it,” said Matthews. “This year we truly wanted to settle it in the best interest of students and parents. And employees.”

Carolyn Seaton, the executive director of human resources at the school district, who also sat in on the negotiations, said that having full-day negotiations and Matthews’ presence helped. Matthews said that superintendents don’t usually participate in negotiations, but that he did so because the board thought it was important.

“So many things are going well here,” said Matthews. “We have teachers of the year, principals of the year, students doing excellent things. The one negative thing we’ve had was negotiations. The board made it clear to me that was one of the highest priorities.”

In the past few years, agreements were usually reached around May or June.

Farnaz Golshani Flechner, the executive director of the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization which gives grants to the school district, called the news “exciting.”

“It creates an opportunity to focus on the most important thing, which is educating our kids,” she said.

Part of the contract says that the district will pay for the Teacher Association’s president’s release from class one period per day to perform her duties.

In the past, that cost was split evenly between the district and the Teacher Association’s parent organization, South Bay United Teachers, according to Seaton, who said that it is more common for the district to pay.

Flechner hoped the early agreements would continue.

“It’s the soonest an agreement has been made in the last few years,” she said. “I hope it will be a trend for the future.”

Teachers Association President Chen felt similarly.

“We’re thrilled to have it wrap up this early,” she said. “Last year, it dragged out to May. Rather than being in our classrooms teaching, we’re negotiating. We’re hoping to break a record and get next year’s [agreement] done in May.”

The amount of the teachers’ raises depends on how long they have been working, according to the agreement. Those who have worked 14 years or less, whose salaries currently range from about $48,000 to $84,000, get a raise of three and a half percent. Those who have worked 15 years or more, whose salaries range from $78,000 to $89,000, get a raise of five percent. Superintendent Matthews said this was to bring the more experienced teachers’ pay into line with the rest of the county.

“When we compared the salaries of our teachers with less experience to teachers in other districts in L.A. County, MBUSD was in the highest quartile of pay,” Matthews said in a press release sent out by the district. “That was not the case for our most experienced teachers. We hope that by adding a higher percentage to those with 15 years of experience and more that we will be competitive at all levels.”

The school calendar was moved up to align more with those of camps and colleges. The first semester will end before winter break and the school year will end on Jun. 8.

Other clauses of the agreement include adding a step of mediation before arbitration when a teacher files a grievance; a rule that teachers cannot be involuntarily transferred more than once in a two-year period; and an allowance for teachers to use up to four days of their sick leave for “personal necessity.”

Several items in the two-year contract can be revisited in 2015-2016, including salaries, benefits and one item of choice for the district and one for the teachers association.

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