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MEA, Manteca USD in mediation talks

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Manteca Unified teachers rally Monday outside of the Manteca Unified School District offices to send a message to district administrators and the State of California mediator handling contract nego...

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POSTED June 6, 2017 1:08 a.m.

And now, they wait.
After a tentative agreement between the Manteca Educators Association and the Manteca Unified School District fell through – voted down by the teachers when brought back by their representatives – a mediator from the State of California heard arguments from both sides again Monday morning while teachers held vigil outside.
And after reaching an impasse multiple times, it’s now up to the Manteca Unified Board of Education to decide whether they’ll accept the teacher’s offer or inch the negotiations closer to mandated fact-finding and possibly the first strike in the district’s 51-year history.
The school board will discuss the matter in closed session this evening when they meet at the district’s administration complex at 5:30 p.m.
“I would say this turnout is very significant considering that we’re all technically on vacation today,” said MEA President Ericka Meadows as she stood in a crowd of more than 200 teachers who lined the entryway to the complex to chant as the mediator arrived for negotiations. “I think this says that the teachers want to solve this, and they a fair contract negotiated so that we can pay our bills like anybody else.”
According to Meadows, the average teacher in Manteca Unified is actually taking home less now than they did two years ago because of rising healthcare costs and other expenses that weren’t previously part of the equation. Couple that with what she says is an alarming exodus of experienced, credentialed teachers to other nearby districts – drawn by better compensation and benefit packages – and it’s easy to see why, Meadows said, teachers are upset with the decisions of the administration and the frustrating exchange that has already progressed closer to a strike than at any other time in the district’s history.
And now that other bargaining units have already completed their negotiations with the district, and received raises that were satisfactory to their membership, Meadows said that it’s fair that the classroom teachers now get the same opportunity.
“We are the people who have the direct contact with the students on a daily basis in the classroom,” she said. “We’re the ones that are there every day, spending our own money in the classroom for our students while other bargaining groups in the district got what they wanted.
“We’ve lost nearly 100 people in the last few years that have either retired or resigned and we’re replacing them with people that are pre-interns or interns while the credentialed teachers are out here fighting for better compensation and a living wage. We just think that it’s fair and it’s time.”
And the same show of force that turned up the last time the Manteca Unified Board of Education met to conduct its business will be there again tonight to let the elected officials that control the purse strings know that they’re serious about what they’re asking for – producing even more teachers for a summer morning rally than they did during the last week of school.
And some teachers feel that they know where the money that could have gone to their salaries ended up going instead.
Leo Bennett-Cauchon, who has been an outspoken critic of the district’s fiscal policies for years, said that while the district had the opportunity during the financial crisis to build up reserves like other neighboring districts, administrators used those funds – between $30 million and $70 million – to implement the Going Digital initiative that put a tablet in the hands of every single Manteca Unified student.
It’s disingenuous, Bennett-Cauchon said, to then come back and say that they don’t have the money.
“That money could have been there in reserves but instead they’re coming back now and telling teachers that they don’t have the money to meet their requests,” he said. “There were other ways that could have been handled so that the money could have still been there – options like using a bond to pay for the Going Digital initiative instead of the reserves that the district had built up.
“But this is where we are now, and it could have been avoided.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.

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