GTA vs. GUSD: Saga continues

By Brandon HENSLEY

While students can breathe easier knowing school is out for the summer, the real tests may just be heating up between the parties responsible for teaching them.
The Glendale Teachers Association and the Glendale Unified School District are still at an impasse over a contract agreement, with furlough days and health care payments being the main obstacles. According to vice president of the Teachers Association and Crescenta Valley High School teacher Alicia Harris, it’s an issue of temporary vs. permanency.
“It is our contention that we are in the midst of a temporary economic crisis, and the District is desiring permanent solutions,” Harris said.
Both sides have gone back and forth for months now on how many furlough days the union would give. There is also the issue of health care. Both sides agree that at the least, the current health care plan is one of the best in the state, but now the district wants more of a “containment,” as school board President Greg Krikorian put it.
Harris said a sort of cap would lead to a “perpetual salary decrease over time.”
“We have time and again offered temporary cuts that would meet the district’s demand, they rejected it,” she said.
In the midst of all this, a tentative agreement was reached last week between the district and the union that represents non-teaching employees that will save Glendale over $1 million. The district is facing around a $22 million deficit in 2013.
The agreement includes a range of unpaid work furlough days for employees based on how much they work in a year. Employees who work year-round will take seven days, while nine-month employees will take three.
In exchange for furlough days, there will a $14,100 contribution to health care benefits. The contract was expected to be ratified on Wednesday.
Now the attention will go back to the teachers union and Glendale officials. Glendale Unified is looking at increasing class sizes from 20 students per teacher to 30 in middle schools. At one time, over 100 layoffs were set to take place. That number is down to 72 at the moment, with hope for even less.
No work calendar has been set for the 2010-11 school year, but there is a student calendar in place. School will start August 30. Harris said high school teachers would prefer an early start time to the school year.
Harris charged that as a percentage, Glendale is sitting on more money than most school districts.
“We know the contracts that are being signed elsewhere in the state, with districts that have far less money [than Glendale}, and they are asking far less of their membership.”
Krikorian disagrees. He said he knows of other districts than are losing money, and some that even might cut junior varsity sports programs.
“If you had to say to me, ‘Greg, as a board member would you close all the Falcon athletic programs at CV High School to save jobs?’” Krikorian said. “No I would not do that. I would look at ways to save our youth programs but at the same time we have to look at shared responsibilities.”
Harris said the union’s position is firm: nothing permanent. “Ride it out for a couple of years and then look at it again, that’s what we’re saying.”
Krikorian offered a car analogy: “They’re so used to driving a BMW of a health plan, we’re ask
What happened in late May could be having a negative effect on the union. Many teachers and residents held a candlelight vigil outside of Krikorian’s home to protest the layoffs. But there have been reports of Krikorian’s children being harassed at school. Might public perception be swinging in the other direction?
“The parents that we speak to,” Harris said, “they get it. I think it’s hard to know who to trust, so I can understand the parents’ confusion. But we have a really strong coalition with parents. We have parents that call frequently or [email] … when there is an open conversation, they understand where we’re coming from.”
Krikorian said he is seeing frustration from parents on the union’s leadership. “What I’ve seen in the community and heard first hand is a lot of the parents are questioning the leadership of the union in their tactics,” he said
Both sides are set to meet July 16 on a fact-finding investigation. Harris said she is optimistic about getting the contract settled.
“I hate that it has gone this long and that it has come to this and become so very politicized when it really didn’t need to be,” she said. “They know we’re being asked to give more than we need to. It’s turned into kind of a bloodbath that it didn’t need to [be].”