Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials opened negotiations with the teachers' union this week.

The school board Tuesday unanimously voted to start talks with the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, which sent an initial proposal in a November letter to John Caldecott, the executive director of human resources.

Among the changes mentioned was a proposed salary increase, which was not granted during the last set of contract negotiations.

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The amount of time elementary teachers are given to prepare lessons, class sizes and health benefits will also be discussed, according to the letter.

"Over the past couple of years, we've seen an increase in out-of-pocket costs for health insurance," said Nicholas Dix, the union's executive director. "We've been going down a negative path of passing those costs on to employees."

The union is proposing a three-year contract term. The previous collective bargaining agreement, which trustees approved in September, was for one year.

The way the union mediates problems with the district — a heated issue over the past several years — will continue to be negotiated this year, Dix said.

The union wants binding arbitration, which would require the district and union to accept recommendations from an unbiased third party when the two main parties can't resolve a dispute, he said.

Newport-Mesa currently uses advisory arbitration, under which the district and union can seek advice from a third party, but the district isn't forced to adopt any recommendations without school board approval.

Caldecott has contended in past interviews that it's important to the district that the school board have final approval.

The union and district are in the process of scheduling the first bargaining meeting, which will probably take place in March.

The California School Employees Assn., which represents classified staff in the district, is also negotiating. It is requesting a pay increase from the district.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, employee association President David Johnson pointed to Supt. Fred Navarro's recent 6% pay raise, saying he anticipates the same consideration will be given to the district's other employees.

"We are hopeful that the board values their classified employees as well," he said.