Fact-finding judge recommends three-year agreement
By Maureen Robertson
In an after-school general membership meeting held April 11, an overwhelming majority of Ramona Teachers Association members approved their bargaining team’s recommendation to accept a 4.4 percent pay cut from six unpaid furlough days, plus some cuts in health and welfare benefits.
“Ramona teachers accept these cuts based on the fact finder’s recommendations for settling the 2012-2013 contract, so it’s time now for the district to follow suit,” said RTA President Donna Braye-Romero.
The approval came after a 24-page fact finding report not expected to be released to the public until next week, if then, was uploaded to the RTA website, ramonateachers.com. Also on the website was a six-page dissenting report from Margaret Wallace, RTA’s selection as one of three fact finding panel members. Ramona Unified selected John Gray from School Services of California to represent it on the panel, and Bonnie Castrey served as the impartial judge.
The fact finding panel met Feb. 27-28 after negotiations between the teachers and district failed.
Castrey sided with the district in many of her recommendations, prefacing them with background, applicable laws, how Ramona Unified compares with other districts in the region, and issues such as the district’s ability to meet its financial obligations and whether an agreement should be for just this year or for three years.
Castrey recommended an agreement that re-opens RTA’s current contract with the district as well as two additional years.
“A three-year agreement would provide a time of stabilization of the parties relationship and time to work on the serious health and welfare issues they face,” she wrote.
She recommends six unpaid furlough days this year and the next two years. Two would be staff development days and four would be student days at the end of the school year, “so that if monies allow in any school year, the days can be restored to the work year and the student’s class time.”
The district pays 100 percent of health and welfare premiums for its teachers, with costs ranging from $4,988 a year for an employee only to $17,955 a year for an employee and his or her spouse and dependents.
“The (Ramona) district is one of only two of the 22 comparison districts which pays 100 percent of health care benefits,” said Castrey.
She recommends the district pay 85 percent of benefit premiums and teachers 15 percent. She recommends the district stop giving $1,500 a year to teachers who do not participate in the health plan and that the district stop reimbursing teachers the 20 percent co-payment for hospital in-patient services. Both benefits can be re-evaluated at the end of the three-year agreement.
If the teachers and district agree to the benefit change and furlough days, Castrey recommends leaving class size as is.
Both the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) and legal counsel have advised RTA that the district cannot legally impose wage and benefits concessions beyond the scope of bargaining for the current 2012-2013 school year, said Friday’s statement from RTA.
“Not only does this make moot any fact finder recommendations for the 2013-2014 and 2015 school years, in addition, it is irresponsible for the district to demand cuts beyond the current contract year because, although the legislature has yet to adopt a budget for next year, there will be increased revenue coming to the district,” the statement reads.
Castrey released her report and recommendations on Monday, April 8. While the district had 10 days to make the report public, there was the possibility that, as part of a settlement before April 18, one of the two parties would ask that the report stay private.
Ramona school trustees were scheduled to discuss the fact finding report — and possibly releasing it to the public —at their Tuesday, April 16, meeting. That seems a moot point now that the report is on the RTA website.
“Believe me, these cuts will hurt,” said Braye-Romero, “and especially because all of the money is now going to have to come out of our two remaining pay checks for the current school year. But all along, Ramona’s teachers have consistently offered to accept our fair share of fiscal responsibility. Now it’s up to the district to reciprocate to get this contract settled.”
RTA’s bargaining team is scheduled to meet with the district on Monday, April 15, for the first time since Castrey issued her report.
“We are hopeful that they will agree with RTA about the fact finder’s first year recommendations and settle with us now,” said Braye-Romero. “But if they do not — and especially if they try to impose concessions beyond RTA’s offered cuts, then teachers will have to consider a strike authorization vote.”