District and Teachers Agree to Impasse Process, Mediation is the First Step

Administrative offices of the Santa Barbara Unified School District (file photo)

SBUSD [Santa Barbara Unified School District] and SBTA [Santa Barbara Teacher’s Association] have been negotiating over a new 2023-2024 contract since November 15, 2023 and have reached an agreement on all issues except for Wages for all certificated staff (salary), and Hours and Conditions mostly related to special education.

Under our state’s collective bargaining law, when the parties are unable to come to an agreement, they must participate in what is known as the “impasse process.” The law defines an impasse as when “the parties to a dispute over matters subject to negotiations have reached a point at which their differences in positions are so substantial and prolonged that future meetings would be futile.”

SBUSD and SBTA agree they have reached this stage and jointly declared an impasse on January 19, 2024. Since the parties are filing a joint declaration of impasse, the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) is certain to“certify” the impasse.

The following is a summary of the impasse process:


Once PERB certifies the impasse, the parties are assigned a state mediator whose services are provided at no cost to the parties.  The mediator generally meets with the parties in a joint session first and then separates the parties and moves between the two groups in an attempt to resolve the issues and reach an agreement.

The mediator has no authority to force a specific resolution. There is no time limit on the duration of mediation (it can last months, although most involve at least two sessions), and only the mediator can terminate the mediation and send the parties to the next stage: fact finding.


One or both parties can request to proceed to the fact finding process where they both submit factual evidence to a fact finding panel in a hearing so that the panel may make recommendations for a settlement.  The fact finding panel consists of three people: a neutral (either appointed by PERB or selected by the parties) and one person selected by each party.

Unless the parties agree to extend legal timelines, the panel must meet within 10 days of appointment, must hold a hearing and issue a fact finding report within 30 days of appointment.  The panel must consider a list of factors set forth by law. When the impasse is primarily over compensation, the major factors are usually the fiscal impact of the parties’ proposals and comparability with similar public school employers in similar communities. The official criteria in this area are:

  1. The interests and welfare of the public and the financial ability of the public school employer;
  2. Comparison of the wages, hours, and conditions of employment of the employees involved in the fact finding proceeding with those other employees performing similar services and with other employees generally in public school employment in comparable communities; and
  3. The overall compensation presently received by the employees, including direct wage compensation, vacations, holidays, and other excused time, insurance and pensions, and medical and hospitalization benefits.

The fact finding report is advisory only and provides recommended terms of settlement for consideration by the parties.  SBUSD must make the fact finding report public within 10 days of receipt.


Once the advisory report is provided to the parties but before it becomes public, the parties must determine if recommendations in the report “break the impasse” and can serve as the basis for a settlement. This determination may involve further face to face negotiations or communications such as texts or emails.

If the parties cannot reach agreement, a “second impasse” is reached, and the parties have completed their legal duty to negotiate.  Each party then has the lawful right to take unilateral action.  This means SBUSD would have the legal right to unilaterally impose terms and conditions within the scope of its last, best and final offer to SBTA, and SBTA may engage in a lawful strike.

It is important for students and families to know that a legal strike cannot occur before the parties have gone through the entire impasse process.


The length of the impasse process depends on many factors such as how many sessions the mediator schedules, the timing and length of the fact finding hearing (and whether the parties agree to extend timelines), and whether the parties engage in post-fact finding negotiations. Typically, the process can take anywhere from three to six months depending on these variables.

SBUSD will continue to negotiate in good faith with SBTA and attempt to reach a final agreement by participating fully and with positive intent in the impasse process.


Written by SBUnified

Press releases written by the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD). Learn more at sbunified.org

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    • I don’t think “Take the A-Gs is accurate.” It’s ‘complete all of the A-G requirements.’ Do you know what that means? All required classes including Algebra 2, 4 years of English, two laboratory sciences, two years of a foreign language, etc. and all passed with a C or above. That’s a pretty tall order for students and to expect special education students to do this is not the metric I’d recommend looking at — only 21% of Special Education students statewide are graduating A-G eligible. And why would we expect third grade students still learning English to test proficient in English in large numbers? By the very definition they are still emerging. Better to track how long does it take them to reclassify as English proficient. I appreciate your passion, but I don’t feel you are using metrics that are fair to teachers or students. There are definitely significant areas of concern in terms of student performance but let’s use metrics that are fair. And there are some significant areas of improvement and those to celebrate that we are not.

    • It is promising that the negotiation process is moving along quickly. It may not feel that way to some, but usually the sides do not admit they are at an impasse until the end of the school year. This is a part of the process and it almost always leads to immediate resolution at the end. The school board only has so much money to move around and must have a projected budget in place which maintains safe reserves – that is all they are trying to do here. If the fact-finding finds more money or has ideas, then that would be great., but from what I’ve seen over the years, the recommendations are usually really close to the districts’ final offer.

      • I appreciate your experience, and I’m glad things are moving quickly, but you are reading into this based on your experience rather than the context of this situation. The union actually did the work for them and showed them how they could pay for the raises without cutting programs. The district has also omitted information to the public about revenue streams. They have underestimated projected revenue for years. Other similar districts have prioritized differently and managed to be fiscally responsible and pay their teachers a higher percentage of their general budget. This administration has not demonstrated through their actions that they “prioritize the health and well being of their employees.” It isn’t necessarily just this particular administration as this has happened for years. However, no district negotiating team has walked away from the table and labeled the union’s desire to stay with their salary proposal as not negotiating in “good faith.” That is actually language they are not supposed to use at this stage in negotiations. The union came with a plan for the increases and did a job they didn’t have to do. This particular administration has not handled negotiations very well. They haven’t read the room, so to speak, and they are treating negotiations the way they have been handling employee relations. They have sowed a great deal of mistrust which is reaping the demonstrations you are seeing. You are going to have to admit, that you are assuming their intentions as you are not part of the district. You are extending a benefit-of-the-doubt, which I can understand if you are a former administrator looking in from the outside, as I have done the same. I have supported and clarified intentions of district administration as well on this platform, but knowing what I know, I can’t do that at this time. When you have people like me, who have been reasonable and tried to see things from all angles when possible, saying something isn’t right here, I hope you will be open to listening. Now, if you are more in the know then you are letting on, you should just be honest and say so. Some things to think about: Other basic aid districts are paying their teachers more and are projected to give their teachers raises without claiming the sky is falling in terms of revenue streams. They aren’t running scared to pay for those raises and they are in the same area as us with similar property tax revenue streams. If they can prioritize teacher’s salaries more than SBUnified does, are they doing so at the expense of being fiscally responsible? Maybe they don’t have extraneous expenditures because their budgets match their values which is to hire and retain good teachers. This priority has been proven to be the most effective way to increase outcomes. No teacher wants the district to be irresponsible. If you are going to give the benefit of the doubt to administration, you have to do the same for the teachers as well. No one is going to ask the district to bankrupt itself. As in the past, if the district can prove they don’t have the revenue to pay for these raises the teachers will adjust their requests. That has been our history. We accepted higher benefits costs when the district showed it couldn’t afford to take on any more of the burden. If the union has not backed down from the requests up to this point, it is because the district hasn’t proven them wrong that the money is there and they can still be financially responsible.

      • I will be very surprised if the recommendations are close to the district’s final offer this time. The salaries compared to local districts are just far too low. The numbers do not lie. Well over a dozen of my 2 kids’ teachers have left in the last few years. The district is going to have to find the money.

  1. Will Park: I think looking at 3rd grade reading proficiency and completion rates of A-G requirements are exactly the metrics that we can measure a district’s success by. Some districts with excellent leadership and community support have reached 95% reading proficiency for ALL students. This is actually a movement now. One of the key things that makes it happen is that these districts are implementing a science of reading approach, which includes five foundational skills, namely comprehension, vocabulary, phonics, phonemic awareness and fluency. This approach replaces the Lucy Calkin’s balanced literacy approach that had the “cueing “system and a little phonic but basically relies on student’s guessing at words from contextual clues. Because this method was pushed by publishers many students in special ed and EML, suffer because they need an explicit, systematic approach. Look at the scores for Peabody Charter. They choose the LTRs by Moats program two years ago and their special ed students are now at 52% which proves that how they are taught makes a world of difference. 52% versus 8% at SBUSD. The MTSS ( system of supports) that the district clings to offers way too little help, far too late. It is sad to me how low expectations are for our five vulnerable subgroups of students namely students with learning differences, foster youth, homeless, students with socioeconomic hardship and english language learnings. All student who want to should be able to complete the A_G’s and 95% can be proficient readers by end of third if we have the will to change it and believe in our students. Low expectations and apathy are not going to keep the promise of a free and appropriate education for all.

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