Healdsburg Area Teachers Association and district to return to negotiating table

Loud chants and vibrantly colored signs were seen throughout Healdsburg on Wednesday, Feb. 19 as Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) students and teachers led separate protest marches to the Plaza demanding higher teacher pay in the district.

The Healdsburg Area Teachers Association (HATA) and HUSD students are demanding higher teacher pay following claims from HATA that the district is not spending the legally required minimum on classroom teacher salaries. 

In a Feb. 16 social media post on Facebook, HATA President Ever Flores wrote, “Now we know why teachers in the Healdsburg Unified School District are paid so little... The district's own auditor confirmed HUSD is not even spending the bare legal minimum on classroom teachers. The Ed. Code says HUSD should spend at least 55% of its expenditures on the cost of education in the classroom.”

Flores referenced an audit of the district conducted by private CPA firm Eide Bailly for the 2018-19 school year ending on June 30, that stated, “The district did not spend the minimum percentage of its budget on classroom teacher salaries as required by EC (Education Code) Section 41372.”

The 41372 Ed. Code mandates that, “There shall be expended during each fiscal year for payment of salaries of classroom teachers by a unified district, 55% of the district’s current expense of education.”

In other words, 55% of a unified school district’s budget needs to be spent on the cost of education for a classroom, which includes teacher’s salaries, benefits and other expenses.

“There is the total expenditure on educational expenses, so the 55% for a unified school district includes salary, benefits and any other expenditures in the classroom, like classroom aides for example, so what the auditors mention is that they are failing to prioritize teachers when budgeting for future years,” Flores said in an interview with The Tribune.

According to page 108 of the audit, the district spent 52.2% of its expenditures on the “Current expense of education,” but was required to spend 55%, a 2.24% shortage.

“The findings that they referred to had to do with classroom teacher salary. This is a little bit of a misnomer because it is not just classroom teachers that are included in this formula, it is also instructional aides and it is not just salaries, it is benefits and retirement and compensation” said HUSD Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel. “The code itself says a unified district be at 55%, so the district according to the auditors, spent 52.2% last year on this formula.”  

He said this has been an audit finding for the district for the past four or five years. 

“This isn’t news to anybody, the board has seen this audit finding for several years,” Vanden Heuvel said. 

He also pointed out that if you look at the amount of money going towards post-retirement benefits then, “We’d be way above.”

According to the same audit, for 2018-19 the district paid out $1,259,370 in retirement benefits to former district employees and a total of $929,949 to former certified employees, employees with certified teaching credentials.

“We can’t use it in the calculations because they no longer work here even though it is going to people who were in the classroom,” Vanden Heuvel said.

Flores said the district has asked for a waiver in meeting the 55% threshold from the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE), claiming that the health benefits put them over that minimum figure. 

“That is measuring apples and oranges,” Flores said.

Vanden Huevel confirmed that the district has submitted waivers with SCOE.

“SCOE can waive the 55% requirement, and you have to petition for it, and so we have done that in the past and we have been successful in doing that and we’ll continue to do it. We make the case as to why we believe we can’t make that threshold, and we are just under it, and they say, ‘Yes we agree with you,’ because the case we have made is because of the high contributions we have to make to retiree benefits,” Vanden Heuvel said.

He added that according to School Services, a statewide financial organization that helps schools analyze their budget, that 30 to 40% of all districts in the state do not meet the 55% threshold.

The other contention is that HATA members earn on average 85% of the state average teacher wage, according to Flores.

According to Flores, the average Healdsburg teacher pay is $70,000, while the state average is $82,000. According to the California Department of Education, the state average salary for teachers in 2017-18 was $80,680.

Vanden Huevel said when the district looks at average pay rates they look at the averages in the three-step pay schedule that teachers are on. A step pay schedule is where an employee starts at a base salary, then moves up to a middle figure and finally a final figure depending on the amount of degrees they hold and the number of years they have worked at the district. For instance the starting base salary for an employee with a bachelor’s degree is $50,285, while the starting base salary for an employee with a bachelor’s and master’s degree is $50,288, with both figures increasing over time, according to the HUSD 2019-20 certified salary schedule. 

Certificated salary schedule

Salary schedule — The certificated (for employees with a certificated degree) salary schedule for 2019-20 for the Healdsburg Unified School District. The schedule shows the three step pay method for those with varying levels of degrees. Pay can vary depending on how long an employee has worked with the district.

Vanden Heuvel acknowledges that teacher pay in the district is below the state average, however, he said when considering district teacher pay they like to look like at the local unified school district averages as well as the three-step pay averages. 

“When we look at averages we look at the average starting pay and then we’ll look at what it is in the middle and then we’ll look at what’s the average end and how do we compare and I will say we are 10 to 15% on all three of those below the state average at this point. I don’t know what the county average is, but when I look at the comps for the unified districts we are right in the thick of it,” he said.

The average teacher pay in the county in 2017-18, according to a California Department of Education report based on figures from 32 of Sonoma County’s 40 school districts, was $68,998. 

Vanden Heuvel admitted that the district has some catching up to do in terms of the state average.

“We obviously have work to do in catching up to the state average and eventually surpassing it would be my goal. We are below and we don’t want to be below, we want our teachers to be well compensated,” he said.

What is the current HATA deal and what are they asking for?

The district and HATA have a three-year deal, which included a 0% raise in 2017-18, a 3% raise the following year and a 3.5% raise for 2019-20.

Comp history HUSD

History —This chart shows the history of compensation increase overtime from 2006 to 2019-20.

“Three years ago when I was the new president I did say yes to a three-year deal. I believed that the district was working in the best interest of teachers and students. We made a few concessions that year, we had a few teachers on special assignments out of the classroom setting ... The district had claimed deficit spending, the sky was falling, they would need to cut out these extra expenditures because the district was bleeding money. We agreed, we took a 0% that year for 2017-18 and at the end of that year, their reserves ballooned to over 20%,” Flores said, alleging that the district underestimated its income.

According to Vanden Heuvel, the district’s revenues are “extremely difficult to accurately budget” until later in the fiscal year or even after due to the Sonoma County Treasurer’s and SCOE’S “inability” to accurately forecast Healdsburg’s property tax revenues and revenues from the dissolved redevelopment agency (Healdsburg gets most of its revenue from property tax since it is a basic aid district and not an average daily attendence-funded district).

“Due to the somewhat volatile nature of these revenues, as well as some major expense items (almost all related to special education costs), the district has to budget conservatively early on, and then try to tighten up the projections as the year goes on,” Vanden Heuvel said in an email.

Vanden Heuvel added that the district has also recently had issues projecting revenue due to the damage caused by the Kincade Fire. 

“This year we encountered some issues projecting revenue when it comes to the damage caused by the Kincade Fire. We had to cleanup the schools to be able to reopen and the entirety of the bill because the way insurance plans have changed for schools, it falls on the schools at this point. Prior to Tubbs we had I think about a $3,500 deductible for any kind of fire related damage, now we have a $5 million deductible, so we are on the hook for the first $5 million,” Vanden Heuvel said. 

He said the cleanup for the schools in Healdsburg costs about $650,000. He added that they did not anticipate having to spend that money and that in addition to extra costs, there are projections two years out of having $400,000 lost in property tax revenue because of buildings destroyed in the fire.

“That positioned us slightly differently than we had hoped we were going to be when it comes to negotiations,” he said. 

He said the district had received news last week that the governor's office of emergency services will be reimbursing the district with about $550,000 for the cleanup costs.

He added that projections are tricky because any time there is a pay raise, by law, the district has to project revenues three years out.

“We have to guess what our revenues are going to be in three years and we have to take in the costs that that raise will create for three years and I have to show that we are going to be fiscally solvent with those changes and that is an incredibly weird exercise because I have no idea what our revenues are going to be three years out,” Vanden Heuvel said. “There are allegations of us hiding money. We go through numerous iterations of our budget every year — they are all public — we talk about every board meeting how hard it is to forecast our revenues, and SCOE, in each of those iterations, has to analyze and approve our budget so it is not as if we are making things up on our own. We have independent oversight that says, ‘Yes you are doing this correctly or no you are not,’ and we’ve never had an issue with them approving our budget.”

What HATA wants in the new deal

Now in the throes of a new negotiating session, Flores said HATA is asking for a student-centered contract. 

“We want more counseling at the elementary levels, nurses, a competitive raise and we are asking for the district to negotiate in good faith in terms of their offer,” Flores said.

“We do know what the district can afford, we do have that information,” he continued. When asked what it is, Flores said he’d rather not say at this point because “it would compromise the whole process.”

According to a Jan. 24 letter from Vanden Heuvel, the district’s most current offer is, “A 4.5% salary increase, which represents $370,000. The increase would go into effect July 1, 2020 and is on top of the 3% salary increase applied last year and the 3.5% increase applied at the beginning of this school year. HATA rejected this proposal and asked for a  compensation increase of approximately 34% over a three-year period, which represents $2.8 million.” 

The district countered with 4.5%, whereupon HATA declared an impasse, asking for the state to get involved and mediate. 

Vanden Heuvel said an impasse usually occurs after extremely long periods of time trying to negotiate. The district declined to declare the impasse and the state encouraged the two parties to continue to negotiate.

Loud and clear

HATA members made their requests loud and clear on Feb. 19.

Before the regular Healdsburg School Board meeting that evening, teachers and students organized a march from city hall to the Plaza.

Earlier that day, around 150 students from Healdsburg High School and Healdsburg Junior High School marched out of their classrooms and walked down to the Plaza carrying hand-made signs with phrases such as “Teachers just want to have funds,” and demanded higher teacher pay.

“They are trying to give us a quality education, but they don’t have a salary that they can live on, so we need to give them great pay,” Healdsburg High freshman, Sophia O’Gorman said while walking down Healdsburg Avenue with her own sign.

During the public comment period of the meeting at 6 p.m., around 14 teachers, parents and students spoke in support of higher teacher pay.

Healdsburg High School freshman class president Jackson Boaz, who led the 10 a.m. march, said during public comment, that students did the march out of their own prerogative.

“We walked almost two miles proudly displaying homemade signs and chanting in support of our teachers. These actions were not the result of being prompted by the union or a secret suggestion by a teacher, they were the result of a bunch of students realizing a problem and taking action to ensure that it is addressed. Students organized this, students marched and students will keep fighting for our teachers until the district decides to provide them with the wages and benefits that they so greatly deserve,” Boaz said. “To tell you the truth, I am scared that the fantastic teachers I am so privileged to have will be gone in a matter of years, even months… Scared that teachers may not make it in time because they can only afford to live cities away. I think that I represent the view of most, if not all HUSD students, when I say this: It is essential that the school board take immediate and decisive action to ensure that teachers in the district are paid a livable wage… Today we stood up for our teachers and it is about time that you did the same.”

A fifth grader, Claudia Carpenter, said teachers fully deserve everything they have and more. William Lyon, the president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, also spoke in solidarity with the Healdsburg teachers and with HATA.

But before the copious amounts of words of support, Vanden Huevel had his own public comment to share and told the audience in the packed council chambers, that he has heard everyone loud and clear.

“I want you to know, teachers and community members, that you have been heard. I want you to hear that loud and clear,” Vanden Heuvel said. “The board and I over the past few weeks have been working diligently on a plan to hopefully achieve what we would like to do for our teachers in terms of pay and that involves a plan to make our teachers among the top paid in the county.”

He cautioned that it will take some time to get to that point, but that that is their goal.

Vanden Heuvel said they intend to go back to the negotiations process next week and have a date set on Thursday, Feb. 27.

“To help us move as quickly and prudently as possible I have contracted with an outside firm just to leave no stone unturned to take a look at our budget, is there something we are not seeing, can we free up more funds to be able to make a difference in terms of teacher pay," he said.

While he couldn't offer specifics on what the district will come back to the table with, he said they are working on it and “moving in the right direction.”

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