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LOUD AND PROUD — District teachers gathered in front of Jefferson Elementary on May 16 to picket before Jefferson’s open house.

Like many districts throughout the county, negotiations have been tough for Cloverdale.

After four meetings and some back and forth with negotiations, the Teachers Association of Cloverdale (TAC) is in the process of pursuing the declaration of a negotiation impasse.

Teachers and districts not seeing eye to eye has been a common occurrence over this negotiation season, with three districts in west county also declaring impasse. Before an impasse can be officially declared, TAC has to prepare and submit paperwork to the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), who then has to determine if the negotiating parties have reached the point of needing help to reach a deal.

If the negotiations are declared as being at an impasse, PERB will assign a mediator who will then work with both the CUSD and TAC to ideally reach a negotiation agreement.

On the teacher side, the negotiators include TAC President Erika Sauder, Lead Negotiator Michelle Holden, Maribeth Kelly, Sandy Kitowski and Rina Gerstley. On the district side, the negotiators include Superintendent Jeremy Decker, Chief Business Official Patricia Mills and a representative from the School and College Legal Services of California.

The teachers are negotiating for their current (2018-19) contract, as well as future contracts. TAC’s initial counter requests specified compensation requests for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years, while the ones presented by the district also included the 2020-21 year.

“Throughout the process we were advised by CTA (California Teachers Association) to bring our offers back to TAC, which is kind of new,” Sauder said. “In the past it’s kind of been just negotiations with the district. But we were advised this year to get more people involved, and let them know what’s happening. So we’ve been bringing back the offers to just our membership to let them know what was going on.”

After the district’s last offer, which it stated would be its last, Sauder took the numbers to the 83 members of TAC, who voted unanimously to seek going to impasse.

“Our membership, when we brought it back, was definitely not happy with the current offer,” she said.

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LITTLEST SUPPORTER — Henry Robertson, 5, holds up a sign in support of teachers, one of which is his mom.

Recent negotiations

At the most recent negotiation meeting on May 9, the district presented an offer for the 2018-19 year that outlined a 2% increase with four professional development days and an increased benefit cap to $8,400; for the 2019-20 year it presented an offer with a 1% salary increase with four professional development days and an increased benefit cap of $8,500 for the “employee only” benefit tier and $9,5000 for “employee plus one” and $10,500 for “employee and family”; for the 2020-21 year it presented the same 1% increase and four development days, but changed the benefit increase to $9000/$11,000/$13,000.

According to summaries of the negotiation meeting on the district website, this offer would result in a 2020-21 deficit spending of $827,061 and that the plan “would not be sustainable and that the district was ‘rolling the dice’ with this offer.”

Prior to the May 9 meeting, the district had suggested tying salary increase to enrollment, but after negative feedback from TAC, tabled the suggestion.

Following that offer, TAC came back with both a two-year option and a three-year option. In the two year option, it suggested a 3% increase for the 2018-19 year with four days of development and a 2% increase in 2019-20 with two days of development, as well as an increase benefit cap of $9,000/$11,000/$13,000. TAC’s three-year option presented the same 2018-19 request, with a 2% increase and three development days for 2019-20, and a 3% increase with two development days for 2020-21.

According to the district summary of the meeting, TAC discussed wanting to increase the employee only benefit cap to reflect the majority of district employees.

Following the options put forward by TAC, the district presented what it said would be its last offer:

The last offer that the district put on the table outlined a 2% on-schedule increase for the 2018-19 year with four professional development days, a 2% increase for 2019-20 with two professional development days (professional development days are equal to 0.5% per day, so the decrease in development days account for 1%) and a 2% increase with four professional development days for the 2020-21 year.

Points of contention

While different members may have different feelings regarding the offers presented, Sauder said that the main areas of disagreement lie in having a three-year agreement, as well as the overall increase in teacher pay.

Planning in advance

Sauder said that one of the main reasons TAC feels uncomfortable accepting the district’s offer is because it has presented a three-year plan rather than the two-year that TAC initially countered with.

“Initially we proposed a two-year contract, which it seemed the district was a little taken aback but still flexible with,” she said. “When we met again they had proposed a three-year, and it made our members really really uncomfortable … Our membership was concerned about that because we’ve always done it retroactively — which isn’t necessarily the best, but they were a little weary, going ‘Why three years?’ and ‘What’s behind that?’ A lot can happen, money from the state is changing … that was a big thing.”

One of the reasons the district is seeking approval of a three-year agreement, said Superintendent Jeremy Decker, is because the offers the district was putting on the table aren’t ones it can currently afford.

“The district would like a three-year agreement to allow the district time to realize the increase in enrollment that we are hoping to see based on the construction planned to take place in Cloverdale, our newly approved independent study option at CHS and online academy that will be coming online in the fall of the 2019-20 school year,” Decker said. “Settling negotiations with teachers for three years would give us a clear enrollment target that would need to be realized in order to avoid having to make cuts to programs and services or increase class sizes, and allow us time to build/advertise the programs referenced above to realize those increases in enrollment.”

Balancing increases

Sauder said that the three-year plan, coupled with a 1 to 3% increase per year, had TAC members on edge.

“If we’re looking three years out, and we live in the fourth most expensive county in the state and Cloverdale teacher’s are already paid, I think the state average is $80,000 and we sit around $67,000 as an average,” Sauder said. “So it’s a lot to swallow for our members to have a three-year offer with not a lot of money on the table, so to speak.”

In Cloverdale for the 2017-18 year, the average schedule salary was $68,470. This lies toward the lower end of the reported lowest ($67,947) and highest ($84,626) teacher salary offered at the district in the 2017-18 year.

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Navigating funding

Every school in California is compensated differently by the state. Wealthy districts, which are allowed by the state to pay for schools out of local property taxes, generally pay their teachers better than most. (There are about 30 of “basic aid” districts out of the 977 school districts in California.)

“Being community funded means that they receive more funding than general districts, and in the case of these two districts (Healdsburg and Geyserville), they receive $4,000 more per student than Cloverdale does,” Decker said. “To put this into perspective, if Cloverdale received the same amount of funding per student as Healdsburg, the district would receive $5 million more every year. There are teachers struggling to make ends meet, and TAC is advocating for those teachers as they should. The difficulty lies in the fact that the district needs to receive more funding from the state in order to maintain our small class sizes, keep our current programs and services and increase the current compensation package being offered to teachers.”

The CUSD receives between $11,000 and $12,000 per student per year.

Following its final offer, the district said that the offer creates a deficit in the 2020-21 school year of around $940,000, and that it would only be able to pay for the offer if enrollment sees a 90 student increase. Should an increase not happen, the district will need to make cuts and increase class sizes.

When asked what TAC’s ideal scenario would be if the negotiation goes to mediation, Sauder said that they “would kind of like to remove the three years from the table … that would be a goal of ours, and I think to get even just a slightly higher percentage.”

“We feel like it’s the community of Cloverdale’s responsibility, that no matter who you’re deciding to support — whether that’s a fair offer from the district or whether you think the teachers have a case here — to let the school board know what your thoughts are,” she said. 

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