By Donna Braye-Romero
Times are definitely better for California’s public schools. The state’s economy is slowly rebounding, and with the passage of Proposition 30, the state’s K-12 schools are not facing more cuts, but are actually seeing funding increases that should mean stable funding to schools for the next several years.
Here in Ramona, though, participation in this more prosperous future is severely compromised by the fiscally foolish actions of a previous school administration and school board. By obligating the district to repay $55 million (including construction fees and interest) to build two new schools without first securing the funds to pay back the loan, they created a situation that calls for maximum collaboration between the current school administration and board, the district’s teachers, and the entire Ramona community. It is going to take everyone working together to craft a solution that will put the school district back on a firmer financial footing.
First, the school district should settle a fair and reasonable contract with Ramona’s educators. Then, the entire education community can work together as a team to help all Ramona citizens understand the necessity of passing a bond issue to rectify the previous fiscal mismanagement. However, instead of working with teachers, the district is trying to solve its fiscal problems on their backs, demanding salary and benefits cuts that are unreasonable, unfair and unacceptable.
Between 2013 and 2015, the Ramona district unreasonably demands to cut teachers’ wages by the equivalent of 27 percent from one year’s salary, the equivalent of 50 furlough days or two-and-a-half months’ wages. At the same time, salary concessions requested in negotiations sessions by other county school districts, over the past five years, are averaging only about 2.8 percent for the entire five-year period. And, this while the Ramona school district budget shows the district ended the 2011-12 fiscal year with a 15 percent ending balance in the general fund, an amount five times that recommended by the state as prudent.
The district’s demands are also unfair. Even though Ramona teachers bear no responsibility for the unwise expenditure for two new school sites several years ago, the district is seeking to rectify that fiscal mistake by breaking the backs of teachers financially — putting the entire burden on them. Teachers proposed a more than reasonable cut of 9.2 percent over two years, which would easily carry the district over until a more permanent solution can be made.
But the teachers’ proposal was rejected and the district continues to say we are not willing to take a cut. But how can it be fair to expect them to carry the entire load themselves? Forcing teachers to accept such crippling financial cuts is not a viable long-term solution to the district’s debt problem, but more important, it promises dire consequences for the entire Ramona community.
Such action could decimate Ramona’s teaching staff — many of them could absolutely not withstand the financial impact of the burden the district would place on them. Many would lose their homes. Many could not provide health care for their families.
How could this not result in an exodus of teachers to numerous other San Diego districts where they would be treated more fairly and equitably? And this is to say nothing of the detrimental effect on Ramona property values and businesses because teachers — one of the community’s largest work forces — would have much less to spend here.
As current teachers leave or retire, it will become increasingly difficult to attract new eager teachers to take their places. Ramona’s children deserve the brightest and best to teach them, but why would such teachers be attracted to teach in a district for miserly wages and benefits, with little hope of improvement? Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and ultimately, Ramona’s students, their families and the entire community would be grievously injured by the district’s current proposals.
Ramona’s teachers are willing to accept their part of the shared responsibility for helping the district work its way back from imprudent fiscal decisions to a place of greater stability. But they do not believe it fair or in the best interest of the future of Ramona’s schools and children to accept the entire burden of doing so.
If you agree, we urge you to contact members of the Ramona Unified School District’s Board of Education. Urge them to settle a fair contract with us. And then, let’s be a team that includes the entire Ramona education community and all of Ramona’s citizens ready to work together to find a viable solution to our serious problems.
Let’s create the components of a new bond issue (or solution?) that could unite us around fixing an unfortunate past error, so that together, we can move forward to a brighter future for our students and our community.
The Ramona teachers and supportive parents will be attending the school board meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. We urge you to join with us in telling the school board to do what is right for Ramona and settle with the teachers.
Donna Braye-Romero is president of the Ramona Teachers Association.