LIVERMORE — With negotiations at an impasse, a committee will now recommend the contract terms the Livermore school district and its teachers union should agree to.

The nonbinding recommendation would come from a panel consisting of one person from each side and a third member agreed to by both sides or appointed by the state, Superintendent Brenda Miller said.

Shelly Fields Tejeda, vice president of the teachers union, said the union may take other steps if an agreement isn't reached, including authorizing a strike vote.

"It's scary," she said.

Both sides said they are open to more negotiations before the fact-finding process begins.

"I don't think we're that far apart," Miller said.

The district and the Livermore Education Association have been negotiating a three-year contract that would be retroactive to the 2007-08 school year. They have been at odds over pay and benefits.

Fields Tejeda said the union found out Monday that the state mediator who had been working with the two sides was recommending the fact-finding process.

Miller said she expects the panel's recommendation around mid-November.

The district's most recent offer was a 3 percent raise paid retroactively for the 2007-08 school year, and continuing through the current school year with no further increase. If voters approve Measure M, a schools parcel tax on the November ballot, an additional 0.75 percent raise would be added for the 2009-10 school year.

The district also wants to stay with the $10,000-per-employee it gives the union for members' health benefits. But it wants to cut to $6,000 a year an early retirement option — which ends June 30, 2010 — that pays union members $10,000 a year toward retiree health benefits for seven years, or until age 65 when Medi-Care starts.

The union is asking for a 3 percent raise for the 2007-08 school year and a 1.53 percent increase for 2008-09. The union would agree to defer the second increase until 2009-10 if it would help the district's financial reporting to the state, Fields Tejeda said. There would be no separate increase for 2009-10.

On health benefits, the union wants $13,000 per employee beginning in 2009-10. The union also seeks $7,500 toward health costs for the early retirement option when the current opportunity expires, and wants no expiration date.

Although pay is usually negotiated annually, the union is willing to negotiate a longer-range deal to stabilize district costs, Fields Tejeda said. She also said the requested increase in health payments is needed to cover rising costs, and that the early retirement option saves the district money because younger teachers, who are paid less, would replace teachers who retire early.

But Miller said the district cannot afford to pay more for health benefits. She also said the salary raise it is proposing would cost the district $2.1 million in its first year.

The 2006-07 salary schedule, which is in effect until a new agreement is reached, ranges from $44,759 for a first-year, fully credentialed teacher to $79,918 for a teacher at the top of the scale with 24 years experience, 75 or more post-graduate units and stipends for longevity. There are also $1,100 stipends each for master's and doctorate degrees, plus others for being a school site area chair, counselor, lead nurse, social worker or psychologist.

The most recent offers came Sept. 23, which was the 18th bargaining session and the first this school year. It was also the seventh negotiation session since the two sides reached an impasse in January, prompting the mediator.

Reach Eric Louie at 925-847-2123 or elouie@bayareanewsgroup.com.