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Pact Reached for Irvine Teachers

Contract: Tentative agreement would give minimum 2.5% raises for this fiscal year.

July 12, 2002|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ending months of impasse and bitter exchanges, the financially troubled Irvine Unified School District and its teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement, officials announced Thursday.

Under the agreement, all teachers will get at least a 2.5% salary increase this fiscal year and at least 1.8% next July 1.

Individual raises can be higher, and will vary depending on qualifications and experience. Irvine's mid-career teachers generally will receive the higher rates, district officials said.

"This is the best we could do," said Anne Caenn, president of the Irvine Teachers Assn. "It has been a very difficult and contentious negotiation."

The typically tense process was made more difficult this year because of the state's budget crisis and Irvine Unified's own projected deficit of more than $5 million.

The district argued that it simply didn't have enough money for raises sought by teachers. Rising costs for health benefits and the current economic outlook put a financial pinch on the 24,000-student district, officials said.

But the union accused the district of manipulating financial figures. Talks broke down this spring and the parties went into mediation for the first time.

"Our teachers' morale has never been lower," Caenn said. "I do believe [the district is] underfunded.... But it is a matter of allocation [of money], not ability to fund. They did not make us a priority."

The teachers, who had been without a contract for a year, will receive no retroactive raises for the 2001-02 school year, a sticking point during negotiations.

The agreement, which was reached Tuesday, must be ratified by the Board of Education and the union's 1,100 members when they return in September. Caenn said teachers and administrators will have to work at mending fences in the meantime.

District officials said they were able to pay for the raises by switching to a cheaper health insurance carrier.

Sue Long, deputy superintendent of human resources, said health coverage won't be affected and may improve in some cases.

"We do have extraordinary teachers," Long said. And the salary and benefits are "designed to recognize their dedication and commitment."

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