By Maureen Robertson
Ramona teachers have given their union leadership permission to call for a strike “when and if it becomes necessary.”
With 99 percent of Ramona’s nearly 250 teachers voting, Ramona Teachers Association received more than 75 percent yes votes last Tuesday and Wednesday, the union reported.
“Ramona teachers do not want to strike, but we are not willing to accept the district’s unfair, unreasonable imposition,” RTA President Donna Braye-Romero said. “...If all other efforts fail, we now have the unity and support to strike as a final option.”
Ramona trustees imposed a three-year agreement last month that calls for teacher cuts of about 7.8 percent this school year. Cuts for the next two school years are 9.4 percent. The cuts are not cumulative.
The trustees’ vote came after more than 18 months of negotiations with the teachers union, mediation, a fact finding report and additional talks.
The cuts are a mix of health benefit contributions, furlough days and salary. The district’s two other employee groups — support staff and management — previously agreed to cuts.
Ramona schools will be closed next week, May 20-24, for five of the six teacher furlough days in the agreement for this school year. Because of the Memorial Day holiday, schools will reopen on May 28. The last day of the 2012-13 school year for students is June 12. The sixth furlough day for teachers is June 13, an end-of-the-school-year “teacher check-out day” that is now June 12.
“Obviously, we are disappointed that the teachers would take this action, and we continue to hope that cooler heads will prevail before the union actually calls teachers off their jobs and out of their classrooms,” said Superintendent Robert Graeff.
Braye-Romero said the teachers are not willing to accept what they see as the district’s “unfair, unreasonable imposition. The cuts will not only cripple us financially, but will ultimately harm Ramona’s students and our entire community.”
Teachers will see an average of $2,831 taken from their paychecks in May and in June, she said, “leaving many unable to pay mortgages, rents, car payments or care for dependent children or elderly relatives.”
In a letter to parents and community members, Graeff wrote, “While the (teachers) vote does not automatically trigger a strike, it does validate the extensive preparations the district has been making for some time now to ensure that the education your children and young people are receiving will not be interrupted should such a job action occur.”
It is difficult to see what possible good could come from the threatened job action, whether now or in the future, he noted. But, he said, if there is a strike, schools will stay open and be “fully staffed by qualified teachers who will carry out academically sound instructional programs.”
Bus service, the breakfast and lunch programs, and the before- and after-school ESP program also will continue, he said.
If necessary, “additional security will be in place at our schools to ensure that campuses continue to be safe learning environments and that students and employees can enter and leave campuses freely,” he said.
Graeff’s May 9 letter outlines the district’s perspective, including cuts to the district in recent years due to reduced and deferred payments from the state and declining enrollment.
In related matters, the district will present its updated budget to the community and trustees during the school board meeting May 16 at 7 p.m. in the district building at 720 Ninth St.
Also, the newly established Ramona Parents Coalition will present “Fact or Fiction,” results of its independent fact checking related to the dispute between the district and teachers, in the Ramona Library Community Room, 1275 Main St., at 7 p.m. on May 22.
Both meetings are open to the public.