Teachers, district unable to resolve differences in hearing

Participants in the teachers rally outside the school district offices Feb. 27 clap and chant. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson
Participants in the teachers rally outside the school district offices Feb. 27 clap and chant. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

By Maureen Robertson

They didn’t reach an agreement during their 16-hour fact-finding hearing, but both sides left with a common emotion: disappointment.

“We are very disappointed that the fact finding hearing held yesterday and earlier today did not move us any closer to

a tentative agreement with the union negotiators representing our teachers for a new contract covering the current and next two fiscal years,” Ramona Unified School District Superintendent Robert Graeff said in an e-mail statement sent at 2:13 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 28.

Although disappointed an acceptable compromise to the labor dispute was not resolved during the hearing, “members of the Ramona Teachers Association remain solid in their resolve to get a fair, reasonable contract,” reads a California Teachers Association statement on Feb. 28.

Unable to resolve their differences during initial negotiations and subsequent mediation, representatives of the teachers union and the district met with a three-person panel at a California Public Employment Relations Board hearing in the district board room from 10 a.m. Feb. 27 until 2 a.m. Feb. 28.

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Parent Erik Stromberg says it's up to the community to make up for mistakes made by a former school board. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

Each side selected a person to represent it on the panel, and PERB appointed a neutral party to serve as panel chair. Bonnie Castrey was panel chair, the district selected School Services of California President John Gray, and RTA selected Margaret Wallace from the California Teachers Association, said Graeff.

After the union and district receive the panel’s report, it will be made public at a school board meeting, said Graeff.

“Meanwhile, the district’s bargaining team remains available to meet with union negotiators in order to identify and then implement the savings we need in order to keep our district financially sound,” he said.

“We had hoped to reach agreement, but now we look forward to seeing if we can reach a compromise acceptable to RTA and the district once the fact finder issues a report,” said RTA President Donna Braye-Romero. “Failing that, we’ll have no choice but to consider going out on strike to prevent the district from imposing a settlement that would decimate and demoralize Ramona teachers and, more importantly, harm the students.”

Using financial information presented by both sides, the fact finder will issue a report containing a recommended compromise settlement within 30 days, CTA reported.

“If RUSD finds the proposed solution unacceptable, it can impose its last, best offer on RTA members,” reads the CTA

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Ramona Community School lead custodian Kory Martenson and teacher Carolyn McNulty show their support. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

statement. “But such action would allow RTA members to call for a legal strike action against the district.”

The district proposes cuts of 8 percent this school year, and 9.5 percent for the next two years. The district rejected an RTA concession of a 4.5 percent cut for two years, RTA Chief Negotiator Grant McNiff said at the Feb. 12 school board meeting.

As the hearing took place inside the district’s administration center at 720 Ninth St. last Wednesday afternoon, a rally of approximately 170 people gathered outside to support the teachers. Joining Ramona teachers were CTA President Dean Vogel and other CTA representatives, educators from 11 districts in the county, school support workers, parents, and students.

Michael DeVries, president of the San Marcos Education Association, led the rally in a series of chants, building momentum before several people spoke to the crowd.

“Every once in awhile in the life of any group, there comes a time when you’ve got to stand up, you’ve got to stand together, and you’ve got to send a message not only to one another, but to the community that we are one,” said Vogel. “We’re not divided.”

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California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel tells those at the rally to stand together. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

Management wants the district to believe that “this is a union thing, not a teacher thing,” he said. “Are we going to let them get away with that?”

A loud, “No!” was the reply.

“I’m here to tell you that the 325,000 members of CTA — your colleagues — are standing with you,” said Vogel. “...This fight is going to get harder and we’re going to be with you. They need us to lie down. Are you going to lie down?”

“No!” came the resounding reply.

Karin Yuhl, RTA negotiation team member, told the crowd, “We’re disgusted. We’re disgusted that we have to be here because of their incompetence and their negligence. We all know how this started in 2004.”

That’s the year the district asked the community for a general obligation bond to build new schools and add new wings

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The crowd reacts to a speaker at the rally. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

to schools, she said.

“The community said no, and they did it anyway, and now the expense is to be on our backs,” she said. “That’s not acceptable.”

Yuhl accused the district of negligence and said the district has ended the past five years with hefty ending balances.

“This problem we’re having with the budget, it’s my fault,” said parent Erik Stromberg. “It’s my neighbor’s fault. It’s everybody in Ramona’s fault. Because we put the school board who made those decisions in office, and we are the ones who are going to fix it — not on your backs, on all our backs, because that’s what a great town does.”

Whistles and applause interrupted Stromberg, who said,

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Michael Harrelson, right, retired teacher and former RTA president, talks with Bill Guy of the state teachers union. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

“We built some new schools, but who cares? Those schools are empty. Without a teacher and without a student, there is no learning...Without you, there can be no school.”

Pointing to the district offices, he said, “I hope that the people in there take the time to think it through and make the right decisions, that they partner with you guys and get it done.”

Earlier in the rally, Stromberg told the Sentinel that he voted for Proposition R, the $66 million bond rejected by voters in November 2012. Saying he didn’t blame the school board that borrowed $25 million after the 2004 bond effort failed, Stromberg said, “they made a mistake building the schools the way they did...but we voted for those folks. It’s our responsibility to clean up this mess.”

Nearby, his son, fourth-grader Cole, held a sign that read: “Don’t mess with my teacher.”

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Fourth-grader Cole Stromberg holds his message. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

The rally is a good experience for Cole, showing “how we do things in a peaceful way,” said Stromberg.

Repaying the money borrowed in 2004 isn’t the only reason for proposed cuts. Declining enrollment, California finances, and the rising cost of health benefits are others, said Graeff.

The state requires the district to pass budgets that have positive ending balances for this and the next two years, said Graeff. “Right now we can’t do it,” without settlements with employees.

“The district’s classified and management employees have agreed to compensation reductions and unpaid furlough days for the next three years,” he said. “We’ve already had to cut several teaching and support positions as well as music for our elementary children, summer school, the Gifted and Talented Education program, and funds for classroom supplies, textbooks, and equipment in order to help balance our current and future budgets.”

Teacher support at the rally encouraged RTA members, Braye-Romero said.

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Sophia Sheets, 7, and Jaaden Millen, 6, listen to the rally chants. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

“Many of our rally signs read, ‘We don’t want to, but we will,’” she said. “We absolutely hope we don’t have to strike, but this kind of outpouring of support definitely strengthens our resolve to do whatever necessary to get a fair contract.”

   
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