Teachers and classified employees throughout the Turlock Unified School District are sporting black and blue ribbons and wristbands — a unified statement against what they claim is the abuse they have taken at the hands of district officials in the form of salary and benefit reductions.
The Turlock Teachers Association, along with the two classified employee unions — the California School Employees Association Local 56 and Turlock Classified American Federation of Teachers Local 2424A — have teamed up against the Turlock Unified School District’s demand to cut salaries by about 3 percent for the next three years, one percent each year.
All three unions have reached an impasse after failed negotiations with the district in the past few weeks. The sticking point for the unions is that the district keeps padding its reserve funding while at the same time requesting employees take pay cuts.
“It has gotten to the point where we have had enough. We keep giving concessions like class size and work days (before the school year and during) while they keep increasing their reserves. Next year they will have a 16 percent reserve, which we applaud them on because the district is doing better than most, but they are not being flexible with us,” said TTA Lead Negotiator Jennifer Collins, a teacher at Medeiros Elementary.
Furlough versus salary cuts
Collins said the teachers are “ideally” seeking five furlough days at the back end of the school year instead of a salary cut, but they would be willing to concede a combination if needed.
TUSD officials, however, are standing pat on their commitment for the salary cut. Assistant Superintendent/Human Resources Heidi Lawler said the salary cuts are necessary to keep budget cuts away from the students.
“The district has maintained that we want to keep the cuts from impacting students and if we give furlough days then that would be fewer days the students are in school,” she said.
But Collins said the furlough days make more sense financially for the district.
“The state is allowing up to five days of furloughs next year and districts would still get their ADA (average daily attendance) money,” she said.
District points to state for padded reserves
Despite the ADA funding, district officials don’t exactly trust the state and they believe that a large reserve is necessary to protect against shenanigans such as deferred payments. Basically, the state pays school districts but not in full — like a worker waiting to receive a paycheck but only getting half and the employer pays the other half at a “later date.”
“School finance is very complex but our budget is money on paper; it is not cash in hand,” said Lawler. “We budget with multi-year projections and right now salaries and benefits are nearly 90 percent of our budget and we want to bring that in line with ongoing revenues.”
TUSD Trustee Frank Lima said the issue the unions are ignoring is that the district is currently and will continue to spend more money that it brings in should cuts not be made.
“We have a structural deficit; we are spending more money that we have. It’s just a matter of how long it will take until we become insolvent and they are ignoring this. For a few years the federal government gave us one-time money (stimulus, jobs bill funds) and that boosted our reserves, but those are done now and the state is giving us less money that we have going out.”
CSEA Labor Relations Representative Kyle Harvey said his members aren’t buying what TUSD officials are selling. He points out that the district is, in addition to holding a 16 percent reserve, also holding on to $16.7 million in an “unassigned/unappropriated section” of the budget.
“The district has a $29 million ending balance and $17 million of that is in reserves,” he said.
In a statement to the CSEA the district wrote, “The district intends to use the reserves to for one-time purposes, for example, to offset cash deferrals from the state and protect against mid-year funding reductions.”
“They have the money, we’ve given concessions and they still want more. We’ve concluded that TUSD really has no need for concessions at all,” said Harvey.
California is 49th in the country for pupil spending and in the top five for salary and benefits.
“There is nothing a single school district can do to change that but we (as California citizens) have to be aware of this. Teachers are good people and no one wants to take salary away from them but this is reality,” said Lima. “The state and federal government can spend more money than they bring in but we cannot do that locally (in TUSD).
Statewide we are average with our reserve status but we are much better off than neighboring districts,” he said.
Unions suggest retirement incentives
The TTA suggested that retirement incentives for teachers nearing the end of their careers might be one way the district can save money. Collins said it is logical to assume that the district salary and benefits could be reduced if they inserted new teachers into slots where higher paid teachers with more experience once filled.
“For some reason they are absolutely not interested in it retirement incentives. Four years ago they offered them, but why not now? We would probably want years of service credit or a combination of service credit and a one-time payment,” she explained.
The district refused to comment on the matter of retirement incentives.
Collins said this has been a positive process for the three involved unions.
“We are definitely working together now and as a team; that is the way it should have always been. We need our bus drivers to drive the kids we (teachers) teach and we need our secretaries and custodians,” she said.
At Tuesday’s TUSD Board of Trustees meeting all three unions will gather together at the district office and march to the meeting facility at eCademy Charter at Crane School.
The next step in the process is for a third-party mediator to come in and work to remedy the situation. The mediator will likely make a recommendation to both the district and the unions. This will likely occur in the next several weeks.