S.F. teachers issue strike warning

San Francisco teachers, who have been in contract negotiations with the school district for four months, have sent a stern warning: Settle the contract this school year or face a confrontation when the new school year starts.

In April 2006 a threatened strike was narrowly averted following a 22-hour mediation session that finished in the wee hours of the morning. The two-year agreement that was reached provided the district’s 5,700 teachers and classroom aides with an 8.5 percent pay increase, with 2 percent retroactive to July 2005 because the classroom instructors had gone without a raise since 2002. The two-year agreement expires June 30.

This time around, the district came to the table Thursday afternoon with an offer of a 1 percent raise, starting in April 2008 and another 2 percent increase in April 2009.

Union officials found the offer to be “insulting and totally unacceptable” and immediately declared an impasse, saidDennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco, on Friday.

The union has asked the district for a 6 percent raise, starting July 1 — before a newly hired superintendent starts with the school district. Interim Superintendent Gwen Chan announced Wednesday that she is retiring at the end of June.

“We wanted to end this round of contract negotiations by the end of school this year,” Kelly said. “So the new superintendent would be coming into a situation that was settled and we could open the new school year with an air of tranquility and harmony.”

Although the district’s chief negotiator, Tom Ruiz, has said that the 3 percent offer is only a “starting point” for negotiations, a press release sent out Friday by the school district notes that current budget projections for 2007-08 show an anticipated shortfall of up to $6 million, in part due to declining enrollment. For the past five years, the district has seen a decrease of approximately 800 students per year, resulting in a loss of more than $21 million.

The cost of every 1 percent raise in salary for the 5,700 union employees is $3.3 million, according to the district, which also notes that in addition to the across-the-board salary increase, the district is picking up increased health care costs and paying already established “step” increases for teachers with added experience.

With salaries for experienced teachers in San Francisco ranking the lowest among other Bay Area counties — San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Marin are better paid — Kelly said the possibility of a strike “has to be considered,” and said the first of two strike votes required for a walkout could be scheduled during this summer.

For now, the district has also agreed to the impasse, which allows parties to request a state mediator to assist in reaching a settlement. Those discussions could go forward within the next few weeks, said representatives from the district and the union.

beslinger@examiner.com  

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