The Orcutt Union School District and Orcutt Educators Association declared an impasse in contract negotiations Thursday afternoon, citing disagreements in potential salary schedule increases, the proposed elimination of six "report card days" and a negotiated increase in class size.

The impasse ends two months of contract negotiations between the district and union representatives. Notice of the impasse has been filed with the California Public Employment Relations Board, which soon will appoint a mediator to meet with both parties and continue the negotiation process.

"The district looks forward to working with a state mediator and [Orcutt Educators Association] to reach agreement," Deborah Blow, district superintendent, said in a statement Friday afternoon. "The district is hopeful that we can reach an agreement that is good for everyone. We are committed to advocating on behalf of our students and employees."

The district offered teachers a half-percent increase to their salary schedule and one-time payment of $640 to all full-time teachers should they agree to forego six report card days, periods of instruction where teachers may get a substitute teacher while they work in class to grade and plan. A mutually agreed-upon increase to the average class size, from 27 to 29, is also being sought.

Monique Segura, president of the Orcutt Educators Association, said Thursday that the union rejected the district's proposal in order to preserve what she felt were important parts of their contract.

"We felt it was fair and acceptable," Segura said of their counter proposal — a 1.6-percent salary schedule increase that maintained the report card days and did not increase the class size. "The Educators Association feels that the district has the money but they make different choices. We feel their priorities aren’t where they should be regarding spending of taxpayer dollars."

In an interview Thursday, Blow, who was not present when the impasse was declared, pointed to increases in contributions to the California State Teachers' Retirement System and California Public Employees' Retirement System as reason the district cannot agree to a higher salary schedule increase.

"It’s having a huge impact on the financial situation," she said. "It’s having a large impact in any kind of ability in providing a current salary increase."

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Financial data provided by the district indicates they are liable for $4.4 million in payments to the retirement systems in 2017 — a $470,000 increase compared to 2016. Blow said that the district has maintained its commitment to compensating their employees adequately.

"It is compensation that’s going to our employees, [albeit] compensation in their retirement," Blow said, a claim Segura refuted.

"It’s disappointing that they feel like what we’re asking for is unfair," Segura said. "In doing our research in the district’s unaudited actuals, we feel that the money is there."

Both parties look forward to continue negotiations through mediation, a process that resulted in resolution during 2015 and 2016. Should impasse remain at the end of the mediation process, the mediator will certify the dispute to fact-finding and the process will continue from there.

"Each step of the way, I’m going in with a positive attitude to get through the negotiation process we have been working on the last four sessions," Segura said. "We're hopeful for a productive, respectful mediation."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.