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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
•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
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.
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.”
With the district saying Ramona teachers are in the top five in the county and the teachers union saying they are at the bottom, the coalition went to the California Department of Education, “where everything is on file, and everything’s right there on their website.”
Looking at salaries alone, Ramona’s range of $39,954 to $86,995 is about in the middle of the 42 districts in the
county, Yerkes said. The average salary for Ramona teachers is $70,098 for a 184-day year. Once the value of health benefits is included, Ramona was second among the 28 districts for whom information was available.
The imposition puts Ramona in the bottom half of the salary range, something the coalition doesn’t want. “But we’re down in good company with people like Poway,” said Yerkes.
Comparing Poway and Ramona, total compensation — salary and health benefits, with both groups paying a portion of their health premiums — is more for Poway the first six years of teaching. It flips to Ramona teachers receiving more from the seventh through 35th years.
The report delves into other considerations such as “step and column” raises based on years employed and education, pension contributions, Ramona Superintendent Robert Graeff’s compensation, equity with the district management’s compensation package, the $25 million loan a previous board approved, role of the California Teachers Association, lack of trust, district budget projections, state budget uncertainties, and what state takeover of the district would mean.
Among coalition conclusions are:
•Both sides have made negotiation missteps.
•Support restoration of teacher salaries and raises, but also want the district to balance that with restoration of programs/jobs and facilities maintenance.
•Support both sides conceding to the fact-finding report recommendations and reaching an agreement to avert a teachers strike.
•The superintendent’s compensation is disproportional to the size of district.
•We don’t want a strike that could devastate teachers emotionally and financially.
“How can we bridge the big divide and try to find a way to come together?” asked coalition member Mary Fulghum. “...We don’t accept litigation and we don’t accept a strike, and we understand that both sides feel like their backs are against the wall.”
Yerkes stressed the coalition is not taking sides, “because we have to support teachers and the district.”
The coalition has more work to do, she said, encouraging the community to “email, talk, ask the district, RTA leaders to put aside your personal difference, no matter how hard it might be, ask, urge, demand, plead, beg that they settle.”
Yerkes credited representatives from both sides with being “incredibly dedicated passionate people,” adding,
“they’re protecting their separate interests very fiercely,” but common ground remains.
“We feel, as outsiders looking in, that some of that common ground is not being seen anymore, maybe because of protecting both sides,” she said.
Representatives of both said they admire the work the parents are doing but don’t agree with all of their conclusions.
“I commend them,” said Donna Braye-Romero, RTA president, noting that she and another teacher felt they were “politely butchered with a dull knife.”
“I don’t agree with everything, but I agree with
,” said Bob Stoody, school board president. “This was a home run. This was huge.”
“This is a wonderful effort,” said Graeff. “Who does this? This is pretty remarkable...They immersed themselves so deeply in this issue.”
He said that, while he may not agree with all their conclusions, “I have nothing but the highest regard for them.”