Holding signs and chanting demands, members of the Tehachapi Association of Teachers made their feelings known about their contract dispute with the Tehachapi Unified School District.

Yelling “What do we want? A fair contract. When do we want it? Now,” along Robinson Street, outside the district offices before the March 14 board meeting, teachers held signs and voiced complaints over the proposed contract presented to them last month. About three-quarters of the TAT membership rejected the contract Feb. 24, saying it would require them to work more for less pay.

The 50 or so teachers at the outside rally also held signs saying, “Not on Strike Yet.” They later moved into the board room for the meeting.

Among the items in the new contract were increases in health benefits, along with a salary increase of 3.5 percent. TAT's main point of contention was the TUSD had tied a 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. It also sought to add 40 minutes to elementary school teachers' work days, which equates to a pay cut for those teachers.

Superintendent Susan Andreas-Bervel said the original agreement called for a 2.5 percent salary bump but was increased to TAT's request of 3.5 percent, retroactive to July 1, 2016.

“That 3.5 increase is the largest in about 10 years,” Andreas-Bervel said. “The district also offered to add two additional steps to the salary schedule of $1,000 each. We hope all this can be resolved as we value our teachers.”

The superintendent said now a three-person panel will be appointed to review the contract. It will be comprised of a member from the district, TAT and a neutral participant.

Several teachers and the head of the association spoke out during the meeting.

Bob Johnson, a teacher in the district for 20 years, said some of the language in the new contract showed contempt for teachers.

“There were changes in work hours, but no mention of work conditions,” he said. “We asked for clarification but got no response. There is a distrust between the teachers and the district.”

Tracey Cunningham, co-president of TAT, said the teachers give everything they can to provide a good educational experience for all students. She also noted that when the state cut funding, TAT took furlough days and found ways to keep the district functioning.

“Naturally, we assumed that when things were better, their sacrifices would be recognized and the district would pass on increases in funding to its employees,” she said. “The fact that the district is asking for major concessions from teachers such as the removal of instructional minutes, the removal of any definition of the length of a minimum day, and lengthening of the elementary work day was insulting. The fact that they didn't come with any salary increase until we entered into mediation further eroded teacher morale.”

Cunningham also voiced complaints about the district not seeking input from teachers concerning the new all-day kindergarten, new textbooks, dual college classes with Cerro Coso Community College and benchmark testing.

“We had little input on how these things would be achieved but we made it work,” she said.

TUSD board president Leonard Evansic said he hopes the panel will bring back an agreement that will be good for both sides.

“We'll just have to wait and see,” he said. “We're hopeful we can reach a solution.”