Ramona parents strive to bridge negotiations gap

Shelly Yerkes, one of the six founders of the Ramona Parents Coalition, discusses details from one slide of the group’s 84-page report. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson
Shelly Yerkes, one of the six founders of the Ramona Parents Coalition, discusses details from one slide of the group’s 84-page report. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

By Maureen Robertson

In a fast-paced PowerPoint presentation that lasted an hour and 40 minutes and left 20 minutes for questions and discussion, Ramona Parents Coalition shared facts, figures, frustrations and conclusions about the stalemate between the school district and teachers that’s left the door open for a strike.

The six-member group of self-described “research nerds,” alarmed at the breakdown in negotiations between

Ramona Unified and Ramona Teachers Association, spent the past month and a half asking questions, digging into public records and double-checking facts.

They know each other from their volunteer work at Mt. Woodson Elementary, where they are room moms and PTA, committee and club members, said coalition member Shelly Yerkes, who served as moderator of the meeting that attracted an estimated 100 teachers, parents, and residents in Ramona Library on May 22.

They are all unemployed — some by choice, some not by choice — and each has a professional background in private industry in fields such as technology, finance and engineering.

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Ramonans Bob Ballantyne, white shirt, and wife Stacy are among the estimated 100 people who filled the Ramona Library Community Room for the Ramona Parents Coalition presentation. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

“We just decided to see if we could find out what’s going on, and it opened a huge Pandora’s box,” said Yerkes.

Their 84-page PowerPoint is available online on their Facebook page in pdf format. They welcome questions, suggestions and opinions at ramonaparentscoalition@gmail.com.

Their mission?

•Protect the educational quality of our children.

•Maintain competitive and fair compensation for teachers, administration and staff.

•Support efforts that will help the district achieve and maintain fiscal stability.

They don’t like the three-year agreement — also called the imposition — that the school board approved last month, saying they prefer terms in the fact-finding report prepared after a three-member state-sanctioned panel met with and read reports from both sides. They also want restoration language in the agreement if the district gets more money than anticipated.

Almost everything boils down to salary/furlough days and health and welfare benefits, Yerkes said, noting that

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Teachers, parents and residents are among those at the meeting. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

furlough days are tied to salary because each is about a .5 percent cut in salary.

They averaged the cuts to give a better perspective. Imposition cuts are 9.09 percent over the three-year term — this is not cumulative — the fact-finding report recommends 7.88 percent, and the teachers union wants 4.5 percent.

The imposition calls for six furlough days a year: five teaching days and one professional day. The coalition wants those restored. That isn’t possible this year, because five of those days were May 20-24, when schools closed.

“We want those days back for our kids to be in school,” Yerkes said.

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Donna Braye-Romero, Ramona Teachers Association president, listens to the presentation. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

Until the imposition, the district paid 100 percent of teachers’ health and welfare benefits. Coalition research showed Ramona is one of two unified districts in the county — San Diego Unified is the other — that paid 100 percent, which ranges in Ramona from $6,387 for employee only with vision and dental to $19,057 for family coverage. Ramona salaries were 7 percent higher than San Diego Unified, Yerkes noted.

“We learned a lot about different districts and choices they had made for handling their compensation structure,” she said. “Bargaining units have choices. They can preserve higher salaries in exchange for (teachers) paying for benefits.”

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