Teachers challenge district’s numbers

School employees flank a teachers union sign as they listen to union leaders in a rally outside district offices before the school board meeting last Tuesday. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson
School employees flank a teachers union sign as they listen to union leaders in a rally outside district offices before the school board meeting last Tuesday. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

More non-teaching jobs cut, trustees OK bus fee hikes

By Maureen Robertson

In a school board meeting that covered everything from district awards and commendations to budget cuts and fee hikes, trustees took a dose of criticism before a standing-room only crowd.

Ramona Teachers Association representatives challenged district budget projections, with the union’s chief negotiator, teacher Karin Yuhl, saying that the district first reported a $2 million projected ending balance and changed that to $4 million in March.

“We want to bargain with facts, not on worse-case scenarios, which we understand the state of California is presenting,” said RTA President Donna Braye-Romero. “It is important that we sit down and talk collaboratively to come up with a reasonable solution.”

The district declared impasse in negotiations with the RTA for this school year, with mediation slated for early

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Karin Yuhl, chief negotiator for the Ramona Teachers Association, talks about cuts the district proposes this year and encourages those at a rally on April 17 to present a united front. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

May, after the parties could not agree on proposed unpaid furlough days. California School Employees Association’s Ramona chapter (CSEA), which represents non-teaching employees such as bus drivers, aides, and office workers, agreed to three unpaid furlough days before June 30. Management employees did the same.

Parent Tonya Cohen, one of the parents pleading for the board to rescind preliminary pink slips some teachers received last month, offered some solutions to the statewide budget crisis affecting the district. She suggested a Ramona Unified Foundation similar to a foundation in Del Mar.

“They’ve done amazing things down there,” she said, referring everyone to delmarkids.org.

Later in the meeting, the board approved a recommendation to participate in the county’s Tax and Revenue Anticipation Note (TRAN) program to borrow up to $10 million to meet cash needs when the state postpones cash payments designated for schools.

Due to the state’s budget problems, the district anticipates cash flow concerns during the 2012-13 year, and the TRAN will give the district a way to meet its cash obligations, Ostermann stated in a board report.

“Another shell game that the state of California plays with school districts where they say they fund us — but not quite yet, not with the cash — so they have us borrow the cash and we pay the interest,” said Dan Lopez, Ed.D., school board president, comparing the state to a bookie.

Assistant superintendent David Ostermann estimates borrowing costs will be $65,000: $21,000 to issue the TRAN and $44,000 in interest. The state doesn’t reimburse that, he said.

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School district employees and parents fill the board room before trustees' April meeting. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

“That’s the cost of a teacher,” said Superintendent Robert Graeff, Ed.D.

“Enron Accounting II,” commented Ostermann.

Also in the meeting, the board approved cutting 12 non-teaching jobs — three bus driver jobs, two campus safety officers, a career specialist, two clerks, three secretaries, a special education aide — and reducing work hours for nine others — two attendance technicians, two bilingual aides, a bus driver/dispatcher, a computer lab assistant, a health technician, and a library technician. Assistant Superintendent Anne Staffieri said five of the 12 jobs to be cut, effective June 30, are vacant.

In January, the board laid off 15 workers and cut 16 other non-teaching jobs that are vacant.

“This continued erosion of the classified unit is going to have a profound negative effect on the morale of our employees,” said Kris Blaszcak, Ramona CSEA’s chief negotiator.

It appears the RTA is unwilling to make any concessions, she said, adding, that she believes “this has put an undue burden on our classified unit.”

“This is not only inappropriate; it is immoral, because it is an assault on the lowest paid employees in this district,” she said.

Salaries and benefits of the teachers is more than 60 percent of the district’s total wages paid, said Blaszcak.

“Therefore, they hold the biggest responsibility to keep the district solvent,” she said, asking the board not to approve the cuts.

In other action, trustees increased school bus fees $100 per year, effective July 1. The highest rate will be $475 for a two-way pass for one student. A one-way pass will be $250. Reduced rates will increase to $325 for a year’s two-way pass and $148 for a one-way pass. Discounts are offered for additional children in a family.

Free school bus service will continue for exceptional needs special education students as required by law and students qualifying for the free lunch program.

   
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