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posted: 5/6/2010 12:01 AM

District 26 union declines to open contract

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The union representing teachers in Cary Elementary District 26 has declined the district's fourth, and probably last, request to reopen its contract.

"A contract is a solid commitment of both the district and the teachers," Cary Education Association Co-presidents Pat Sylvester and Mary McCandless wrote in a news release announcing the rejection.

The District 26 school board has made four offers to the union this school year that, according to the district, could save jobs and lessen the impact of dramatic cuts designed to eliminate a deficit that otherwise is projected to grow to $5.4 million next year.

The union rejected the first two requests, did not respond to the third and voted Tuesday, 74 percent to 26 percent, to decline the district's fourth offer, according to district officials and the union.

While acknowledging the district's financial difficulties, the union co-presidents blamed "an unfair and broken system of school funding" for the budget woes.

"No short-term local fix will correct this system or properly fund education in the future," their release states.

In an April 22 letter, the district presented the union with three options:

• Accept a salary freeze, saving an estimated $385,000 and four teachers.

• Accept a salary freeze and require employees to cover 20 percent of their medical premiums, saving $503,000 and five teachers.

• Accept a salary decrease to 2008-09 levels, plus the increased insurance contributions, saving $845,000 and nine teachers.

Board President Chris Spoerl expressed "extreme disappointment" in the union's decision. The district, which laid off about 80 teachers in March, was hoping it could call back art and music teachers so classroom teachers would not have to teach those subjects - as currently planned.

"It doesn't sound like a lot, but the folks we'd be able to call back would have a large effect on the classroom," Spoerl said.

The board president also said the district's fourth offer is likely the last for the year - considering school lets out in about a month.

"We just have to pick up and move on with the resources we have," Spoerl said. "That's all we can do."