Union delivers a vote of no confidence in high school district CBO Mary Schafer, but is it really her fault if the numbers don’t add up?
Red was the color of the evening last Wednesday when over 90 teachers, school secretaries and parents crowded into the El Molino Library for the high school district board meeting, all sporting the bright red t-shirts of the West Sonoma County Teachers Association.
They took their turn at the microphone to decry the low pay and poor working conditions — including large class sizes (between 35 to 50 students) and 90-plus degree classrooms — that they say characterize the experience of many of the teachers in the high school district.
Classified staff (i.e. school secretaries, lunch staff and others) also lined up to lament their salaries, reporting take home pay in the $12- to $14-an-hour range. Many left the podium in tears, after imploring the board to take their plight seriously.
“I think you’re seeing numbers and not people,” one said. “This is an attempt to get you to see the people behind the numbers.”
Union announces a vote of no confidence in district’s chief budget officer
Red was also the color of Chief Budget Officer Mary Schafer’s budget projections for the district.
Her projections always show red — though whose fault this is is now a topic of contention between the district and the union.
In June, as a part of a three-year budget projection, she projected that district would have a deficit of $526,295 for the 2019-20 school year, which can be covered by the district’s reserve; a $9,804 deficit in 2020-21; and a $718,556 deficit in 2021-22.
The union was not cowed by these projections, however. Instead, union negotiator and Analy math teacher Brian Miller argued that these projections were belied by repeated differences between Shafer’s estimated budgets and the district’s actuals, which continually come out several hundred thousand dollars better than predicted.
And indeed, later that evening, Schafer presented the unaudited actuals for the WSCUHSD budget for 2018-19, which showed that she had underestimated the ending fund balance by over $800,000, more than $430,000 of which was undesignated (meaning still available to be spent).
These numbers may seem large, but as a portion of the district’s $25 million yearly budget, this represents a budget variance of only 3.2%, which is generally considered acceptable.
But in a district where teacher (and classified) raises have been put off year after year, this difference between the estimated budget and the year-end actuals has the union seeing red.
At the board meeting last Wednesday night, Miller announced that the union had taken a vote of no confidence in Schafer. He spoke directly to the board members.
“We need three of you to hear us today and to do what’s right and authorize a cost of living increase for our teachers for 2019, 2020 and 2021,” he said. “It’s clear from your proposals right now that you believe 100% of what Mary is saying and 0% of what the union is saying.”
“It’s clear right now that you think we’re broke; you think we’re bankrupt and that we’re near insolvency. And we’re not. So why do you think that? How can we be broke, when in 2017-18, we lost $7,000 in a $25 million budget? How can we be broke when in ’18-19, the unrestricted balance went up $60,000? … How can we be broke when we make more money per ADA than the average high school district in the state of California? What neutral observer is going to look at that situation and say there’s a financial catastrophe?” Miller said.
The district shot back with a rebuttal. Superintendent Toni Beal noted that the county department of education had approved Schafer’s budgets, and board member Kellie Noe sternly read a letter of support for Schafer, saying the school board had full confidence in Schafer and her numbers.
What will the neutral fact-finder say?
The district and the union are in the final stages of the fact-finding process, the last phase of the Public Employee Relations Board’s efforts to get the two sides to see eye to eye.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Miller said, “but I know there is no way on God’s green earth that a neutral fact finder’s going to look at our financial situation and say zero is the right number. There’s simply no way they’re going to look at our situation and say, ‘Yeah, you can give them 3%, just make sure they pay for 2% by decreasing their health care benefits.’”
“I want you to start thinking right now, what are you going to do when the neutral fact finder says, ‘Give your teachers a raise’?” Miller asked the board.
In her report, Schafer noted that the budget committee is now examining all options — including shortening the school day, district consolidation and closing a school —as solutions for the district’s budget dilemma.
The neutral fact finder’s report is expected in late October. Depending on the outcome, teachers may choose to strike in early November.