After months of negotiation, the Tehachapi Unified School District and the Tehachapi Association of Teachers could to be close to a new contract.

TUSD Superintendent Susan Andreas-Bervel said the parties have continued to meet and negotiate in an effort to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

“On Feb. 1, representatives from the district’s bargaining team met with representatives from TAT to present the district’s last, best and final offer for a new agreement with the hopes of bringing negotiations to a close for this school year,” Andreas-Bervel said.

Tracey Cunningham, co-president of the Tehachapi Association of Teachers, said both parties are still in mediation.

“If the mediation process does not lead to an agreement between the two parties, it could progress to more formal hearings.” she said.

The superintendent reported that the district accepted TAT’s request for a 3.5 percent salary increase, retroactive to July 1, 2016. Original reports had the TUSD offering 2.5 percent.

Joan Cooper, the other TAT president, said the main point of contention is the TUSD has tied a minimal salary increase of 3.5 percent to the removal of contract language that designates the number of instructional minutes per grade level and the number of minutes in a minimum day.

“The district also wants to add 40 minutes to the work day of elementary teachers,” she said. “This equates to a pay cut for those teachers. These items are included in the district’s best and final offer.”

Andreas-Bervel said the district's proposal is for “a uniform work day for all unit members.”

“Under the district’s proposal, all full-time district teachers would work 7.5 hours per day,” she said. “The work day would include a preparation period not less than 40 minutes for TK-5 and Continuation School, and not less than 50 minutes for High School, a duty free lunch, and physical relief break as per Article-5 Sections (O&W).”

Andreas-Bervel also said the contract includes an increase in the health and welfare cap from $13,588.49 to $13,724.49 beginning Jan. 1, 2017, and that both parties agreed to clarification language in Article 4, Health and Welfare Benefits (J & k) regarding post-employment benefits, she said.

“Both Parties also agreed to changing language in Article 5, Days and Hours of Work (CC) to include a new salary schedule for Speech Pathologist, which would comply with Kern County Superintendent of Schools and CalSTRS requirements,” Andreas-Bervel said.

Negotiations have been tense. There have been many complaints that TUSD teachers are paid less than those in other area districts, with some dispute on the correct numbers. Letters to the editor sent to Tehachapi News reflect those concerns.

“TAT is still hopeful that a fair settlement can be reached,” Cunningham said.