Teachers, district near negotiations showdown

Olive Peirce Middle School eighth-grader Mary Plantz, center, joins teachers and parents in the hall before the start of the Feb. 12 school board meeting. “I love my teachers and I want to make sure they can support themselves and their families, and I think these (proposed) pay cuts are unfair,” she said. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson
Olive Peirce Middle School eighth-grader Mary Plantz, center, joins teachers and parents in the hall before the start of the Feb. 12 school board meeting. “I love my teachers and I want to make sure they can support themselves and their families, and I think these (proposed) pay cuts are unfair,” she said. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

By Maureen Robertson

Unable to resolve their differences during initial negotiations and mediation, Ramona teachers and the school

district are headed to a fact-finding hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 27.

The California Public Employment Relations Board hearing will be conducted by a panel of three in the board room of the district offices at 720 Ninth St. Each side appoints a panel member. The third is the impartial chairperson.

The hearing is closed to the public, but the panel’s findings will be public record.

The last time the district and teachers went through such a hearing was the 1975-76 school year, when Ramona teachers went on strike. Teachers have made no decision about a strike, Donna Braye-Romero, president of the teachers union said Monday.

Unless the district calls the teachers back to the negotiations table, the hearing will take place, Braye-Romero said, adding that a rally likely will occur outside the district office after school the day of the hearing.

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Teachers and teacher supporters form two lines in the hallway of the district offices before the start of the school board meeting. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

The school board meeting room last Tuesday evening was filled to capacity, with people listening from the hallway. Most were teachers and teacher supporters. Before the meeting, they lined up on both sides of the hallway, holding signs and occasionally chanting.

Teacher compensation is at the heart of the controversy. The district is asking teachers for a 9 percent cut this school year and for the next two years, Grant McNiff, chief negotiator for the teachers union, said at the board meeting.

“The Ramona Teachers Association was willing to make a concession of 4-1/2 percent for two years in a row, and it was rejected,” he said. “It wasn’t enough. The superintendent was given a salary increase of 2-1/2 percent or more, just as he has for the last four years.”

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Teachers and supporters fill the board room. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

District officials have reported that 90 percent of the district’s budget goes to salary and benefits. McNiff said it’s “much closer to 82 percent.”

Braye-Romero distributed information she said was part of a PowerPoint presentation to members of the district’s administrative leadership team (ALT). According to the presentation and the ALT compensation agreement with the district, “each member of the ALT team would be given nine additional vacation days in exchange for contributing to their benefits,” she said.

The district traditionally has paid 100 percent of health benefit premiums for all qualifying employees and their families. In an effort to reduce costs to maintain financial solvency, the district this year presented employees with a list of possible options, district

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Zoe Vandegrift, 7, listens as she sits on her father’s lap. Her father, Myles Vandegrift, teaches at Olive Peirce Middle School. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

officials reported.

Support workers such as custodians and bus drivers, represented by the Ramona chapter of the California School Employees Association (CSEA), “agreed to forfeit days of pay — we refer to them as furlough days — while managers agreed to forfeit fully-paid benefits — in what we have termed vacation days,” Graeff said in an email.

“In either case, it is the same. Each unit comes to work less days than they did last year,” Graeff continued, noting that CSEA agreed to make benefit payments in the 2013-14 and ‘14-15 school years.

“Why did management settle last July on the number nine as the appropriate number of days for a reduced work year in exchange for benefit contributions?” Graeff asked. “Because at the time, the maximum number of days the work year for teachers could be reduced was nine — five student days and four staff development days. At the time (last July), there was a hope that teachers would agree to reduce the current work year in exchange for a reduction in total compensation and, if so, managers, classifieds, teachers, and students could all match their days off together.”

In addition to Braye-Romero and McNiff, four people spoke against proposed cuts for teachers — three parents and one teacher. A fifth, Ramona High School senior Deanna Lasley, daughter of Trustee Kim Lasley, said she has “a foot in both ends of this.”

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With her children Carolyn and Casey standing next to her, Sheri Buggeln reads a prepared statement. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

Jon Stephens, husband of a Barnett Elementary teacher, said, “if this cut goes into place, I’ll be advising her to find another job, and a lot of other teachers would probably do the same.” He also would take his children out of the district, he said.

But, he added, “this is a two-sided coin. Union, you have not played the game, either. You need to help the situation.”

Parent Sheri Buggelin brought two of her children and a framed photo of the third to the table when she addressed the board. After telling of the positive impact Ramona teachers have had on her children, she said, “I support these wonderful individuals 100 percent. I don’t like strikes, but I know for a fact myself and many other parents like me will be keeping

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Bob Stoody, Ramona school board president, listens to speakers during the Feb. 12 meeting. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

their children home if our teachers strike.”

   
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