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Initial proposal left brief, but smaller class sizes and more school days top the priority list

Trustee Anna Bryson vehemently defended the work of Capistrano Unified School District officials and her fellow trustees during a discussion on upcoming negotiations with unions. Photo by Brian Park
Trustee Anna Bryson vehemently defended the work of Capistrano Unified School District officials and her fellow trustees during a discussion on upcoming negotiations with unions. Photo by Brian Park

By Brian Park

With contract negotiations set to begin between the Capistrano Unified School District and teacher and school employee unions, school officials on Wednesday laid out their early priorities, which include lowering class sizes and restoring school days.

The district will head into negotiations while having to address a $20 million budget shortfall next year. Initial contract proposals were left brief, but school officials attempted to assuage parents’ concerns, saying they shared the same priorities and that talking points would become more focused as negotiations progressed.

“As negotiators, we’ve been given direction by you to pursue as a number one priority a reduction in class sizes, a reduction in the number of furlough days and an increase in instructional minutes,” Superintendent Joseph Farley said.

Labor negotiations last year stripped the district of five instructional days to furlough. Farley also said he does not anticipate there being any raises.

“It would be inappropriate to have really specific language in this proposal at this stage of negotiation because the reality is, it is negotiable,” Farley said. “The goal is to simply begin the negotiating process and hopefully to acquire some of those concessions.”

Parents who spoke on the matter were critical of the district and its initial proposal.

“It seems the proposal offered makes us choose between teachers and children,” Terri Mostert said. “Class sizes are too large to inspire children … I do believe good teachers make the difference, but large class sizes diminish good teachers.”

Trustee Anna Bryson spent several minutes vehemently defending the work of district staff and her fellow trustees, who she said have worked through difficult economic circumstances to keep school doors open and avoid bankruptcy.

“No one is running amok, giving anyone anything here,” Bryson said. “We have had to fight for every penny and every dime and do it in good faith.”

Trustee Jim Reardon reassured parents that the school district and board will have their best interests in mind at the collective bargaining table.

“There’s a privacy element of this negotiation, but I want everyone to be assured that everyone on this board will be paying very close attention and will be taking into consideration your comments,” Reardon said. “Be assured that this negotiation process is just beginning.”

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