School district labor talks enter final stage

BY CRAIG SHULTZ

   STAFF WRITER
   Contract negotiations between the Hemet Unified School District and its teachers will enter the final phase Monday when fact-finding begins.

   Hemet Unified and its educators have been at odds over salary and class sizes for almost two years, and local talks and mediation have failed to lead to a resolution.

   In fact-finding, a representative for the school district and one for the Hemet Teachers Association will meet at the district office with a moderator they jointly selected. The talks are closed to the public.

   After talks, the moderator will prepare a report and present it to Hemet Unified’s governing board, which can accept the findings or reject them and impose its latest contract offer – which includes a 4 percent raise and $1,500 contribution per employee 
toward health benefits, retroactive to August 2013.

   Teachers, who haven’t had a new contract in two years, are asking for a 6 percent raise and a hard cap on class sizes.

   If the district imposes a contract, the district’s 1,000 teachers can go out on strike.

   Hemet Unified is preparing for a possible walkout by hiring more substitute teachers and offering $295 per day

   – plus transportation and lunch – during a work stoppage. Most subs in the district are paid $140 per day currently.

   The union has distributed a letter to current substitutes urging them not to cross the picket line, saying they’d be doing themselves, the teachers they sub for and the students a great disservice.

   More than 200 people attended Tuesday’s school board meeting and about 30 parents addressed the board in support of teachers, many 
bringing their children to the lectern with them.

   Many said they will not send their children to school if there is a strike. That will affect the district’s budget, as state funding is based on average daily attendance.

   Parents expressed concerns about the quality of education their children may receive from substitute teachers and mostly asked that teachers be given more respect.

   School board members said they hope an agreement can be reached in fact-finding and a strike averted.

   While teachers contend they are among the lowest paid in Riverside County, the district counters that’s not true based on hourly salaries, as the contracted workday in Hemet is shorter than in other districts.

   The union is planning a rally for 3:30 p.m. today at the district office, where teachers, who have been asked to bring noise makers, will hear an update from the fact-finding session.

   CONTACT THE WRITER:

   951-368-9086 or

   cshultz@pe.com 
DMITRY SHULTZ, CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER

   A crowd applauds in support of Hemet teachers at the Hemet Unified School Board meeting Tuesday.

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