District, teachers still far from deal 

Progress has been made in a contract dispute involving high school teachers, but a final deal remains elusive, district and union officials said Thursday.

San Mateo Union High School District teachers picketed Thursday outside the district offices while contract negotiations took place inside. While both sides early in the day said a deal could be imminent, hope for an immediate resolution had been replaced with cautious statements about "progress" by the day’s end.

"It was one of the more frustrating days, but in a good way," said Craig Childress, president of the San Mateo Union High School District Teachers Association. "They want control of how medical benefits will be spent. They are opposed to letting us have choice."

The dispute stems from a district move to begin deducting some medical benefits costs from teachers’ paychecks.

Superintendent Sam Johnson has publicly been quiet during the negotiation process. However, he said in an interview Thursday that the district was burning the midnight oil to find common ground.

"It’s a money issue and we will get it resolved," he said. "We will continue to work to do what’s in the interest of the students. This is a district that understands that what is happening in the classroom is critical."

Childress said the school district has been more open in its dialogue about projected revenue and medical coverage. But he declined to get into specifics amid ongoing negotiations.

On Feb. 1, teachers picketed to mark the first month in which money was directly withdrawn from paychecks. While teachers claim the move was illegal, the district responded with a letter stating that both parties agreed to such terms in 2005.

As teachers chanted in unison Thursday, they described contract disputes as disruptive.

"The morale is pretty bad right now," said Michael Dunn, a teacher at Capuchino High School. "Teachers feel disrespected by the district. Up until this point, there was a pretty cordial relationship."

Suzanne Boutin, president of San Mateo High School PTO, said the sooner the issue is resolved, the better.

"The hope of the parents is that they’ll be able to resolve their differences," she said. "At San Mateo High School, and I can only talk about that school, our teachers have acted very professionally this year with all these issues swirling around."

bfoley@examiner.com

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