An acrimonious battle with teachers over wages and working conditions at Oxnard School District appeared near resolution Wednesday, with officials from the elementary school district predicting that trustees would approve the terms of a mediated settlement at a board meeting later that evening.
The agreement comes less than two months before a district election on a $40-million bond issue to build five new schools. The teachers, who had not endorsed the election, announced this week they will support the measure.
The proposed settlement, hammered out over nearly five hours of negotiations Monday night, called for a 3% raise, a more flexible workday and a study of the possibility of providing health insurance to retired teachers. The agreement also would lock in so-called "step" raises based on years of experience and advanced education, so that teachers do not have to negotiate for them with each new contract.
"We've had some informal conversations with all of the board members, and they're receptive so we expect a favorable vote," said Kent Patterson, assistant superintendent of personnel.
Patterson said officials at the district of 11,500 students view the proposed settlement, which would conclude 11 months of negotiations, with "mixed emotions."
'Didn't Get Everything'
"We didn't get everything that we wanted," he said, "but neither did they. Still, we're pleased that there's a settlement so that we can all get back to the business of educating children."
The teachers' chief negotiator, Fremont Intermediate School teacher Mark Primm, expressed regret that the raise, which would come in the form of a 2% increase on the teachers' salary schedule with a 1% bonus from state Lottery funds, was 3% lower than the one that had been demanded by the Oxnard Educators Assn., the teachers' bargaining group.
"If your raise is 2%, you're losing ground because you don't keep up with the cost of living for '87, which was 5%," Primm said.
But he called the settlement "a victory" because it would give automatic raises based on experience and education, release teachers from a mandatory eight-hour workday and possibly lead to health insurance for retired teachers.
Currently, teachers hired before 1985 are covered by private health insurance after retirement until reaching the age of 69. Those hired after 1985 are covered by no such plan.
"I feel very pleased that these longstanding issues have been resolved," said Primm, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher of English as a second language.
After clearing the district's board of trustees, the raise and professional concessions must be ratified by the Oxnard Educators Assn., which will collect ballots through next Friday, Primm said.
The teachers, who have been working without a contract since July, had complained that negotiating each year for step increases was a rare practice that put them at a disadvantage in annual negotiations for cost-of-living increases.
They said that a district policy requiring them to stay on campus for eight hours showed "a lack of professional respect" because it failed to take into account time put in by teachers outside the classroom, attending campus meetings and preparing for class at home.
Under the proposed settlement, teachers would have to report to work 30 minutes before the beginning of class but would be free to leave school after students are dismissed--provided their departure did not conflict with other such on-campus duties as patrolling school grounds or attending professional meetings.
District officials had offered a 2.1% raise earlier in February in a negotiation session that failed to reach a resolution. They said a drop in state lottery funds, additional expenses incurred in implementing district-wide year-round schooling and a scanty cost-of-living increase from the state ruled out the 6% salary increase demanded by teachers.
In what teachers characterized as the most bitter contract dispute in memory, charges of unfair labor practices were traded back and forth, and a state mediator, called to the district in January, failed twice to reach a resolution in negotiation sessions.
Teachers, meanwhile, picketed schools on a weekly basis, printed bumper stickers that read "Oxnard: Home of 486 Unhappy Teachers," and refused to attend school meetings. The union even withheld its support of the bond issue, a measure viewed by the district as essential to relieve overcrowding. The teachers now plan to plead the district's case for the new school in the April 12 election, Primm said.
The proposed settlement will cost the 15-school district $486,000 and raise the average salary of its teachers by $960 per year.
Then there's the matter of the bumper stickers.
"I'm going to modify mine to say, 'Oxnard, Home of 486 reasonably happy teachers,' " Primm said.