By Bob Graeff
Superintendent, Ramona Unified School District
As most Ramona residents know, our school district has been in negotiations for the past several months with the Ramona Teachers Association, attempting to reach a contract settlement for the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years that is both fair to our teachers and financially responsible to district taxpayers.
At the heart of the matter is the district’s critical need to reduce costs in order to maintain financial solvency. Our district’s revenues are down 20 percent from what they were five years ago, due to continuing reductions in per-student funding from the state and 11 years of declining enrollments. Our costs, however, have not declined. To the contrary, they are rising.
In order to balance our $45 million budget this year, we’ve already taken several painful steps, including reducing the number of teaching positions, custodians, bus drivers, classroom aides, and office staff; eliminating multiple student programs such as music for elementary children, summer school, the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, and reducing support for classroom supplies, textbooks, and equipment.
With the failure of Proposition R last November, we need to not only maintain those reductions, but now must look for additional cuts in order to maintain our physical facilities and meet our debt obligations — all while maintaining fiscal solvency. Since 91 percent of the district’s budget is for salaries and benefits, we’ve asked for reductions in total compensation from our employees.
The district classified and management employees have agreed to compensation cuts of three furlough days last year and up to 10 percent annually for three years. That leaves the teachers union whose members’ salaries and benefits comprise 62 percent of the district’s budget. Our proposals to the union negotiating team have offered several options they can choose from, including across-the-board salary reductions, shortening the work year, and/or beginning to pay a portion of their health and welfare benefits. Unfortunately, the union’s proposal thus far has been 1.62 reduction for the 2012-2013 year only, representing just a fraction of the cuts our district needs.
Teachers have always been and continue to be our top priority. The current median salary for a Ramona Unified teacher is $78,122. Along with all district employees, teachers have received fully paid healthcare for themselves and their families, along with retirement benefits.
However, teachers are not the district’s only priority. Buildings and facilities need to be clean and safe environments for our children. We need computer technology and other resources to help provide the high quality of education our parents and community have come to expect.
Having not reached an agreement after lengthy negotiations and mediation, the next step is a Fact Finding hearing, scheduled on Feb. 27. At this hearing, the district and union will present factual evidence to a three-member panel, after which the panel will present its findings to both parties within 20 days of the hearing. Those findings will then be made public at a governing board meeting after which the panel’s recommendations can be accepted in part, in their entirety, or rejected by either party.
We hope Fact Finding will lead us to an agreement with the teachers union, so that we can implement the cost savings we need to maintain fiscal soundness and get on with the mission all of us have to “prepare today’s learners for tomorrow’s world.”