New Haven Unified School District officials and teachers' union leaders met Wednesday morning in an effort to restart stalled contract talks on the third day of a district-wide strike.
With picket lines and a planned parent-led march to the school board offices occupying much of the day, New Haven Teachers Association President Joe Ku'e Angeles and California Teachers Association representatives met with Superintendent Arlando Smith and other district officials in order to see if the two sides could find a way to resume negotiations.
"The idea is that it will help kick start the negotiations and the bargaining," district spokesman John Mattos said.
The two sides last met on Sunday but talks broke down over differences between the teachers' salary demands and the district's counter offer.
The teachers want a 10 percent raise over the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. The district's offer is for a 1 percent raise for 2019-2020 and a one-time 3 percent payment.
The district is also offering a permanent 0.5 percent increase if it's able to secure an additional $1 million in revenue, and another 0.5 percent if it can add yet another $1 million, according to Mattos.
"We agree that our teachers deserve a significant pay increase, we do, we just don't have the money for it," Mattos said.
The district is dealing with declining enrollment, deficit spending and millions of dollars in budget cuts -- and the union's proposal would cost roughly $20 million over three years, according to Mattos.
"We just don't have that kind of money," Mattos said.
Teachers, however, say the district is sitting on a multi-million dollar budget surplus and that managers are set to receive pay hikes of up to 6 percent.
"The district can afford (teacher salary increases)," California Teachers Association spokeswoman Cynthia Menzel said. "They have $26 million in unrestricted reserves."
"I give the district a D-minus in their ability to do math," Menzel said.
Lisa Duncanson, a science teacher at Delaine Eastin Elementary School in Union City, said that in the past teachers have taken pay cuts and agreed to furloughs in order to help keep the district's budget afloat.
"I was happy to take those furlough days in the bad economy with the district's promise that when times are better they would make it right and yet here we are sitting on $26 million," said Duncanson, who has spent her entire 20-year career with the district.
While the strike has been a hardship on her and her fellow teachers, counselors, librarians, social workers, speech pathologists and nurses, Duncanson said they are determined to hold out until they get an offer they can live with.
"We definitely feel successful," Duncanson said. "There are very few scabs going in and the number drops every day. We're doing our best to stand outside and welcome those people to our picket line."
"It feels like we have a movement that is growing," she said. "We have more parents and more kids and less people inside the school buildings."
While updated student attendance numbers were unavailable Wednesday afternoon, on Tuesday the district said only 15 percent of students crossed the picket lines to attend classes.