Turlock school labor talks stalled

TURLOCK — There's one area in which school board members and their employees agree: Negotiations aren't going anywhere.

Tensions over the tussle were apparent at the Turlock Unified School District meeting Tuesday night as each side accused the other of not listening.

Julie Shipman, president of the teachers union, was frustrated that the board last week said everyone needed to work together, then the next day district representatives wanted to declare an impasse.

"I'm truly at a loss for words," she said. "There is a lack of willingness on the part of the district to work with us."

The teachers want furloughs instead of pay cuts; the district doesn't.

Furloughs would reduce the amount of money teachers take home, but they wouldn't affect pensions and wouldn't be permanent. School board members don't want to cut the school year at all.

"The district's actions show us that our time is not valued," Shipman said. "We have a top-down administration that blames low test scores on teachers."

Other teachers said they thought the district was treating them unprofessionally.

Trustee John Sims said he has heard people complain that the district has money available it isn't using. Turlock has a reserve fund but is forecast to spend more than it takes in for the foreseeable future. This year's budget has a nearly $4 million shortfall.

"I seem to be hearing a message that you have plenty of money for the next year," Sims said. "Quite frankly, I don't disagree with that. But how many years are we going to have to use that money?"

Later Tuesday, the board approved a policy to allow staff members to "bump" those with less seniority in the case of layoffs. Heidi Lawler, human resources director, explained how the bump works:

"If there were a classified employee serving as a campus supervisor who had a previous position as paraprofessional, he could return to that position," she said.

The board voted 6-0, with Sims abstaining because of a concern about a conflict of interest, to adopt the policy.

Both sides still hope to avoid layoffs, but board President Frank Lima said there are no easy solutions.

"I'm tired of sitting up here, thinking about how do we cut again?" he said. "We don't want larger class sizes; we don't want shorter school years." But, he said, the money just isn't there.

"Right now, our budget projections are additional cuts of $3 million every year going forward for at least the next two years," he said. "We are deficit spending."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra can be reached at or 578-2343.

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