Talks between the Hesperia Unified School District and the Hesperia Teachers Association have officially collapsed.


On Monday, as teachers protested outside the district offices on Main Street, negotiators for the district and union met with a state fact-finding panel. The district had previously declared an impasse and asked for the state to step in.


Over the course of the day, both the district and union presented their case, and then members of the panel talked with each party, seeing if, at the 11th hour, a compromise might still be reached. But it was no good: At 10:30 p.m., negotiations ended between the Victor Valley's largest single employer and the union that represents a majority of its employees.


"There's still a significant gap between what the district needs and what has been offered by the association," Superintendent Mark McKinney said on Thursday.


Now, Bonnie Castrey of Huntington Beach, the chairperson of the fact-finding committee, is preparing a report on the situation. The report, which must be finished within 30 days of negotiations coming to a halt, will include her assessment of the district's financial situation, and her recommendations.


"She in her report, either supports [the district's picture of its finances] or she doesn't," said McKinney. "The way she [will suggest to] resolve it will not be one thing: It'll be a variety of options."


The report isn't binding: It isn't a mandatory list of things the district must do, but rather a series of choices of what they can do to rectify the situation.


Ten days after the district and the union receive the report, it goes public. And two more things also happen: The district is free to act unilaterally, if it wishes, implementing any or none of the recommendations, and the union is free to strike.


It's a series of steps played out across California this year, as the state's budget crisis is passed along to local governments by legislators. In April, the Capistrano Unified School District, teachers walked out on strike for 3 days over the language of a 10.1 percent teacher pay cut. The strike ended with teachers winning some concessions from CUSD.


According to the HTA's Web site (HesperiaTeachers.com), the HUSD was asking teachers for a 26 percent salary cut over the next two years. McKinney says the request for less than half of that.


"You're looking at 9 to 12 percent. And that's been pretty consistent to all [employee] groups," including management and non-teacher "classified" employees, he said. "Depending on where you are on the salary schedule, it's about a 9 to 12 percent reduction."


"He's not counting what's called step and column," said HTA president Tom Kerman. The "step and column" pay structure provides automatic pay increases for many employees. "People sign up to work in the district based on the salary schedule, and you take away that salary schedule, you're taking away their income."


Those most likely to receive an annual bump in pay under the district step and column system are its newest teachers, he said.


"It dramatically impacts our young teachers and our new teachers coming in. That's a big piece of what they look at when they're looking at a district, and [deciding] 'what district do I go to?'"


The HUSD was asking the HTA to come up with salary and benefit cuts to close $8.4 million of a $13 million deficit. (The rest had been closed by cuts made by the other two employee groups in the district.)


"That [number] was their proclamation that they came up with," said Kerman. "About 5 percent" would have been a fairer cut, he said. "And again, that's significant, compared to what we see happening across the state."


Castrey's report is due by July 13. The report goes public, and both district and union are free to act, on July 23.


"I certainly hope we can continue to dialogue and get to some sort of agreement," said McKinney. "I have to provide recommendations to the board to maintain fiscal solvency. That's not an option. And with that, some tough decisions have to be made."


"A strike is not good for anybody. Not that we want to do it, but we'd be forced [to]," if the board takes unilateral action, Kerman said.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star