Little progress on USC teacher contract

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 29, 2002

Negotiations are at a stalemate between members of the United South Central teacher’s union and the USC district board after Tuesday’s deliberation meeting, and the union authorized its executive committee to call a strike if it can’t reach a settlement.

Since June of 2001, the teachers have been working without a contract. Over the past months, tensions have mounted as both sides have tried to come to some agreement, but so far little progress has been made, according to representatives of both sides.

&uot;I think it’s terribly unfortunate that we didn’t come to any agreement,&uot; said district superintendent Frank Lorentz. &uot;The kids will ultimately suffer from this.&uot;

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The contract dispute has many issues, according to both sides, but the main focus is retirement benefits, and more specifically, severance packages. Tuesday was the last scheduled meeting for negotiations before the start of the school year. But the latest round of negotiations did little.

The teachers agreed to move down to a $72,000 severance package from their original asking price of $80,000. But the board &uot;was locked onto a $60,000 price,&uot; according to Karen Robins, the president of the teachers’ union.

The board did match the teachers’ request for $7,200 in insurance for each family, said Lorentz, but he said that nothing else of significance had happened.

&uot;There was absolutely no progress made on severance pay and retirement insurance,&uot; Robins said.

Jim Sand, a USC Education Association negotiating team member, added, &uot;Severance is our main issue of concern.&uot;

After the negotiation hearing Tuesday, the Education Association voted on a strike.

&uot;We met at noon and our membership overwhelmingly approved granting the power to call a strike at any time that the executive committee sees fit,&uot; said Sand.

The teachers have not yet set a strike date, but are ready to do so if there are no further changes to the board’s offer.

Though some have said students are the real victims of strikes, Sand said a concern for quality education is the focal point of the matter. &uot;People want a highly trained staff to educate their kids,&uot; he said. &uot;We feel we have a very tremendous staff.&uot; He said that in order to keep the staff the district must deliver stronger benefits.

A strike, if it does happen and lasts a substantial amount of time, could take its toll on the students, though, according to Lorentz. He said that no days will be added to the school year if a strike happens.

As for those days in the regular school year, Lorentz said there will be some changes. &uot;There are contingency plans for all situations,&uot; he said. &uot;The number-one priority is to get all of the seniors graduated. The number-two priority is to get as many services we can to the other students, primarily for the primary grades.&uot;

Though no more meetings are scheduled, negotiations can still be made. Furthermore, once a strike date is set it is mandatory that another negotiating session be held before the strike.