600 Pittsburg teachers at an impasse

Pittsburg's 600-plus teachers are at a stand-off with their school district and headed for state mediation. 

Before Wednesday's school board meeting, hundreds of teachers marched and rallied, calling for a new contract. 

The two sides have been here before.

Mediation bridged their differences on their last contract.

Impasse was declared in February after seven months of failed bargaining. 

"Frustration, anger, that's pretty much the mood around here," said Tammy Carr, President of the Pittsburg Education Association.

"They have pushed a piece of paper across the table, of zero."

No salary increase is being offered, but the district points out it gave an 18 percent salary hike over the past three years.

That raised teacher pay levels from the bottom third to the top third in Contra Costa County.

"We still have a shortage of teachers," responded Carr.

"They can go anywhere they like, and the district right next to us, Mt Diablo, can offer them $10,000 more than we can."

Teachers also point to overcrowded classrooms, especially at Pittsburg High School, which has more than 3,000 students. 

"We've had teachers asking for chairs, and we don't have any more chairs. It has happened. It's ridiculous," said Carr. 

In secondary schools, class sizes are not capped, but aim for a school-wide average of 30 kids to 1 teacher. 

"That means one class has ten kids and another has fifty," said 7th grade science teacher Vanessa Yava.

"But it all averages out campus-wide to thirty. So that's a big problem."

Yava's largest class is 34, but she knows of some that exceed 40. 

"I notice in my smallest class, my 22, I can get so much more done with them," she added.

The superintendent and board, according to their spokesperson, were not available for interviews on the teacher's concerns. 

But the district shared a fact sheet which notes "decreasing class sizes would cost millions of dollars", because more classroom facilities would have to be added. 

The statement also points out the "district is not laying off teachers" and "offered to cover over 90 percent of teacher's health benefits". 

Even as disgruntled teachers marched and chanted, they expressed hope the upcoming mediation will succeed.

"Teachers do not gain anything, students do not gain anything if we're on strike," said Pamela Butler-Harris, who is a special education teacher at the junior high level. 

"If we're on strike, everyone loses, so we don't want it to come to that."

In a succinct statement issued by the district, it says it "values its teachers" and is "appreciative of all the collaborative work being done." 

School safety, especially timely, is also on the table. 

Improved emergency communication and response training for staff and students are part of the contract negotiation.