Wednesday, March 16, 2005 | Hundreds of teachers in the Grossmont Union High School District picketed on Tuesday in front of the district’s 11 high schools to protest the stalemate in contract negotiations with the district.

According to teachers’ union president Bruce Seaman, the teachers’ contract expired nine months ago, and the union and district have been at impasse since February. The picketing was scheduled to coincide with the March 15 arrival of a state-appointed mediator who, district officials said, will meet with individuals from both sides and try to “get things moving forward.”

Seaman said the teachers are asking for a 4-percent salary increase, whereas the district is offering 1 percent. He contends that teachers have had no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for two years. In a prepared statement, the union claims that the district received a cost-of-living increase from the state of 3.86 percent and “has refused to pass the increase on to teachers.”

District’s Response

Ryan also disputes the claim that the teachers did not receive a COLA last year, saying they got a 1-percent increase, but instead of going to salaries, it was applied toward the rising costs of health and welfare.

Ryan said he could raise insurance co-payments and save the district over $750,000, or could choose to give the annual increases in salaries rather than benefits, but he feels the district should place a priority on keeping health care costs down. “I care more about teachers’ families than union members do,” he said.

Ryan said the district provided three proposals in writing to the union, all of which he said were rejected. First, Ryan said the district offered to give the teachers the average salary settlement of all 42 school districts in the county.

Second, he said the teachers could have whatever money they want if they could guarantee that the budget would be approved by the San Diego County Office of Education, which has responsibility to the state for the fiscal health of all county school districts.

Third, Ryan offered to pay for an independent auditor to review the budget in search of any hidden money, which the union says exists. Ryan said the district would give them the money if any was found.

Teacher Reaction

Seaman also said he doesn’t need an independent auditor.

“We don’t have third parties come in. Besides, we’ve already had a CTA person come in, and we know how much money they have from the state,” he said, referring to the California Teachers Association.

The school district has “effectively shut down negotiations,” Seaman said, by declaring impasse in February, while Ryan said he has received no proposals from the union since November.

“I don’t know how a superintendent could be more transparent,” Ryan said. “I have a reputation of being union-friendly, but I don’t know how to be more open.” Ryan said he has asked the union to tell him how he can convince them that the district is not hiding money. “They can’t give me an answer,” he said. “They refuse to participate in the budgeting process.”

Seaman countered by saying there has been no movement on the district’s part to resolve the crisis, and all the approaches put forth have been nothing more than “divide and conquer” tactics.

The state mediator’s job is one of “private, quiet diplomacy,” Ryan said, and his efforts were not helped by all the picketing and publicity that greeted his arrival. Ryan said the union has “politicized the process” by bringing in the media, but Seaman said the publicity has had no effect on the mediator and his ability to do his job.

“What the district has done is lower morale, and the teachers have been driven to picket,” Seaman said. “We are now so far apart.”

The Grossmont Union High School District, located in La Mesa, employs about 1,200 teachers and serves about 24,000 students in grades 9-12. It operates 11 high schools, including El Cajon Valley, Granite Hills, Grossmont, Santana and West Hills.

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