Ramona Unified School District is in a fiscal corner — no question about it. Since we, the community, are the district, what are we going to do about it?
Bob Stoody, school board president, wants a town meeting. Let’s do it, and the sooner the better.
Teacher union representatives and supporters are showing up en masse at school board meetings. Their message: They don’t accept cuts the district proposes. The public is not privy to closed door negotiation talks, so there’s a great deal we don’t know. We do know that negotiations have stalled. Mediation failed and negotiations are at the fact-finding phase in which a panel of three — one selected by the teachers union, one selected by the district, and an objective fact finder — will release a report after a hearing on Feb. 27. Each side has the opportunity to present its side at the hearing. That report eventually will be made public. That’s a good thing. The more information the better.
Unless things go their way, there’s a good chance the teachers union will vote to strike. We hope they don't.
On the opinion pages of this week’s Sentinel and in previous issues, readers have seen varying opinions about the district’s financial situation. There’s no doubt that decisions made by a previous board and administration hurt the district. They did what they thought was best at the time. Those serving on the current board deserve our praise. They voluntarily walked into a mess and they're attempting to weather this storm. They are our neighbors. They are doing what they believe is best for the fiscal health of our district. Trustee Dawn Perfect said it best during the school board’s retreat last month: “We have got to get employee compensation. They’re great people doing a great job, but the burden of 90 percent of our budget is just not something that I can live with.”
In her four years as trustee, Perfect watched the percentage of the district’s budget going to salaries and benefits go from about 84% to about 90% as the nation and state faced a fiscal crisis. No salaries were cut, raises based on years of service and additional education were given, and the district continued to pay 100% of health benefit premiums, even as the cost skyrocketed and now tops $17,000 per family. From the outside looking in, the teachers union could have helped but didn’t. As support and management workers took three unpaid furlough days last year, the union refused. The teachers had their reasons. Distrust of district numbers is voiced most frequently. While employees at other districts accepted cuts during the worst of the economic crisis, our teachers didn't. The district did what it could to protect the teachers. That may have contributed to today's tensions. We urge all parties to step back, take another look at the entire picture, keep an open mind, and see if we can't resolve this — our children deserve it.