Contract negotiations between the Santa Maria-Bonita School District and the local  association have come to a halt after several failed attempts to finalize salary, class size and leadership time commitment agreements for the next one to three years.

On April 20, the Santa Maria Elementary Education Association (SMEEA), which represents over 900 educators in the district, requested that an impasse be declared by the state Public Employment Relations Board to receive help working though the standstill. 

If the impasse request is granted, a third-party mediator will enter contract negotiations to establish final terms for the handful of still-unresolved articles.

"We have been at the table since November of 2019, and we’re not making the progress on these articles that we had hoped, so we wanted a third party to come in," SMEEA president Jose Segura said. "We couldn’t see anywhere further for us to go."

According to District Superintendent Luke Ontiveros, district officials had hoped to reach an agreement without the need for involvement from the relations board. However, if the impasse is approved, they hope to reach an understanding quickly, he said.

"Since December, we’ve made great progress. We’ve made tentative agreements on the majority of articles that were open," Ontiveros said. "When you look at the summary, we’re very close."

Tentative agreements have been reached on all but four out of 26 articles in the contract, with three smaller articles also up in the air depending on their outcome, according to Segura. 

One point of contention is the issue of release of the association president. While a National Educator's Association grant permits Segura to work full time on association matters, the district has proposed decreasing the release to 50% when the grant expires in June. 

Due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, SMEEA also has pushed for an increase in nurses among district school sites as well as decreased class sizes, which the district has so far rejected.

According to Ontiveros, there are currently 10 nurses across the district's 21 school sites, along with one health office assistant per site.

"Are there enough [in the district]? No. Are there enough anywhere? No," Ontiveros said. "Right now, nurses are a hot commodity outside of schools."

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Under the current reopening plan, class sizes are limited to around 32 students. Segura said the association would like to see that number lowered but did not clarify an exact amount.

When it comes to salaries, the district proposed two on-schedule increases and one off-schedule increase, none of which were accepted by the association.

Standstills during negotiations are not uncommon. Over the past five to six years, the association and district have reached an impasse two times with resolution in both cases, Segura said.

However, the past year of negotiations has been more contentious than most. Both SMEEA and the district also have filed complaints of unfair labor practices against one another with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

In November, SMEEA filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the district for an alleged violation of the education code after tutors in the district were released at the end of the 2019-20 school year without the option of rehire. 

While the district argued that they were not contracted employees and therefore not required to be rehired, Segura said as they were entitled to be rehired as members of SMEEA.

After the district allegedly made regressive offers during negotiations over the following months, the association filed an additional complaint of retaliation. Both complaints were approved by the relations board and will be discussed in a May 17 hearing, according to Segura.

In response, the district filed its own unfair labor practices complaint in December alleging that the association was not moving forward with negotiations, according to Ontiveros. 

"We had not received a proposal back from the teacher’s association leadership between May and December of 2020. At my direction, we filed an unfair labor relations complaint since we had not heard back," Ontiveros said.

This district's complaint also was approved by the relations board and will be discussed in a hearing in the coming months, according to Segura.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the teachers association to Santa Maria Elementary Education Association.


Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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