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The Santa Maria Elementary Education Association has declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, ending three months of bargaining sessions between the two.

According to Jose Segura, president of the Elementary Education Association, disagreement on three bargaining requests — salary schedule increases, 100 minutes of weekly instructional preparation time and language to ensure small class sizes in early grades — led the union to declare impasse. 

"The district is one of several in the state that have fully benefited from the Local Control Funding Formula," he said. "All we've been asking for is our fair share given [the increase in funding] they've received from the state."

Santa Maria Elementary Education Association members have been working without contract since June 30, 2017, after the terms of their prior contract elapsed. The two parties started negotiations last November and met five times before the impasse was declared.

The union will file its determination of impasse with the California Public Employee Relations Board separately from the district, Segura said, breaking from the standard joint-filing procedure. Once filed, the Public Employee Relations Board will reach out to the district regarding the impasse declaration before resuming negotiations with the assistance of a state-appointed mediator. 

"When someone declares impasse and feels like there’s nothing to be gained, to me, that’s what the process is designed for," said Luke Ontiveros, superintendent for the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. "The district is hopeful that with the facilitation provided through a mediator, we can reach common ground that will lead to a fair, equitable and sustainable agreement."

Segura said the district countered their "modest request" for an annual 3-percent salary schedule increase with a one-time bonus of 1 percent and an annual 1-percent increase to salary schedule. According to Segura, the annual salary schedule increase is contingent upon the approval of an alternative average class size for K-3 classes — a proposal the union opposes.

According to Ontiveros, the district has given teachers 14.25 percent in wage increases and 4 percent in one-time bonuses over the last five years. In addition to the agreed upon salary increases, Ontiveros said the district has increased its contribution to retirement benefits paid out by the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS).

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"There’s got to be something that is fair, equitable and, most importantly, sustainable," he said, adding that the district's contribution to certificated retirement has increased by $2.58 million compared to the 2016-17 school year.

"It’s a growing contribution we make to employee retirements," Ontiveros added. "Before, when there was a flat contribution to CalSTRS, we could really talk about extras. Now that it’s increasing, it makes it difficult."

With mediation pending, both union and district members hope for a speedy resolution.

"The district would prefer to put money into reserve as opposed to using it to support employees," Segura said. "I'm confident a third-party [mediator] will help both sides recognize some give and takes."

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.