Amid claims of victory on both sides, Beverly Hills teachers Thursday voted 197 to 16 to approve a tentative two-year contract with the Beverly Hills Unified School District.
The agreement, which was reached after nearly a year of negotiations, includes a 5% salary increase and compromises on instructional time and staffing policies that threatened to provoke the first strike in the district's history.
"It is not an ideal settlement," said Jacques Bernier, chief negotiator for the Beverly Hills Education Assn. "It could be better. The money could be better, but the settlement gives us protection and represents a compromise."
Earlier this week both sides doubted that an agreement would be reached. School officials said they would not change a "final offer" that was made two weeks ago and refused to resume negotiations.
The teachers Monday voted to reject the district's offer and authorized its negotiating team to call a one-day strike on Thursday.
The deadlock was broken Tuesday night at a meeting with community leaders where both sides agreed to return to the bargaining table.
The teachers said it was the strike threat that forced the district to make concessions; the district said it was its determination to hold to its final offer that forced the teachers to agree to the district's terms. Both sides cited community pressure as one reason the district was able to avoid the strike.
"They (parents) said, 'You are so close, just continue talking,' and we did," Supt. Leon Lessinger said. Talks resumed Wednesday morning and a tentative agreement was reached that afternoon.
The 5% pay increase is retroactive to June and will raise the average teacher salary in the district to $38,300. The district and the teachers agreed to reopen salary negotiations next year.
The main dispute centered on a district proposal to eliminate a contract provision that made it difficult to reduce the size of the district's specialist staff for music, art, technical arts, home economics, physical education, reading, foreign language and handles counseling.
The district wanted to eliminate the provision because school officials believed that it would restrict their ability to make staff cuts by giving more protection to specialists than to other teachers.
Bernier said teachers were afraid that the district would quietly fire the specialists and force classroom teachers to add the programs to their work loads.
On Wednesday teachers agreed to accept new language authorizing the school board to reduce or eliminate specialist positions. The district, however, agreed to try not to lay off any specialists next year.
The two sides also compromised on a district proposal to increase the teaching time. The district agreed to try to hold teaching time to 1,250 minutes a week. The teachers agreed to an increase in high school periods from 40 to 50 minutes.
"I think we have arrived at a point where both sides can declare victory and that is a nice place to be," Lessinger said.
The Beverly Hills district is facing an annual shortfall of about $3 million. School officials have warned the community that the district must raise $1 million to avoid further cuts in its $26-million budget next year.