'We are valuable': Solana Beach District teachers want salary increases, respect

Solana Beach School District teachers are going on over 100 days without a contract as negotiations continue between the district and the teachers union. While the two sides have made tentative agreements on several items in the contract, they appear to be “stuck” negotiating salary and benefits.

The Solana Beach Teachers Association and Solana Beach Association of Support Professionals are asking for a pay increase that keeps pace with the cost of living and for the district to contribute more to the rising cost of healthcare.

“Our proposal in negotiations contains what we feel we have earned in respect and fair compensation and your response to us has made us feel demoralized,” said Cyndy McBride, president of the Solana Beach Teachers Association, addressing the board at the Jan. 18 meeting. “Many of us are angry. Many of us feel hurt by you and almost every one of us are disappointed in you.”

The teachers are seeking a salary increase of 5 percent in the 2017-18 school year and another 5 percent increase in 2018-19. They are also looking for changes in the contract that involve “trust and professional treatment” such as a commitment to low class sizes and changes to the way earned leave time is handled.

At the Jan. 18 meeting, the auditorium at Solana Pacific Elementary School was filled with teachers as well as parents and students who supported them, some of them holding signs and balloons. Before the meeting began, a teacher led the crowd in chanting “What do we want? A fair contract! When do we want it? Now!”

“The love of learning begins early in life and to discount the value of our community of inspiring teachers is a huge mistake,” said parent Torgen Johnson.

Every public speaker was met with loud cheers and applause and standing ovations. As the contract was not on the board’s agenda, the board was not allowed to have a discussion on the topic.

“As a board we are committed to this district and over the years we have protected your jobs, your classrooms and your student learning,” said SBSD President Debra Schade at the end of public comment. “We respect every one of you and we are committed to reaching a contract agreement.”

The district’s current offer to the teachers union is a 3 percent increase to the salary schedule for 2017-18 and another 3.25 percent increase for 2018-19. If this offer is accepted, teachers will have received 31 percent in salary increases over the past 15 years in addition to the one-time 6 percent bonus received in 2016-17.

The district believes that the proposed increases would “maintain a competitive salary schedule geared toward keeping fine teachers here and attracting the best newcomers.”

During public comment, teachers and parents argued that the salary is not competitive and that the district is at risk of losing qualified teachers.

Jeff Green, parent of a student in the Global Education program and a San Dieguito Union School District teacher, said the discrepancy in pay between the two districts is “an embarrassment.”

He said a teacher at step one of the salary schedule in Solana Beach makes $49,066 while a teacher at the same level in San Dieguito makes 29 percent more with a salary of $69,123.

“It is unacceptable for teachers not to have a new contract, to me that is priority one of this board, to give them a contract that brings them on par with their counterparts at San Dieguito,” Green said. “That’s the only way I can choose to re-elect any board members sitting here before me.”

Elena Cardwell, a Torrey Pines High School junior, spoke about how inspired she was by her teachers in the district, now spending time as an aid in a second grade classroom through a program called Teaching and Learning.

“As a graduate of Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific, I have no doubt that my elementary school teachers were my most influential educators of any of my teachers in middle school or high school,” Elena said. “Receiving cost of living raises is not something that these dedicated teachers should have to fight for, it’s something they have earned and should receive with no debate or hesitation, along with significant praise and expressions of gratitude. I know I am thankful for the contributions they have made in my life.”

Lydia Noble, a guidance counselor at Solana Santa Fe, said she feels appreciated by staff and parents but she does not feel appreciated by the district. Noble said for the last nine years she has been on the same salary step and in two years, after 14 years, she will get the longevity increment in salary. She does not work enough hours to get insurance — she is 15 minutes short a day, a situation she said many classified employees face.

“Next week is the Great Kindness Challenge Week where our students will be encouraged to demonstrate acts of kindness,” Noble said. “This administration and school board can decide to join the Kindness Challenge or not…the choice is yours.”

Tarri Baldwin, who has been a teacher at Solana Highlands since it opened in 1987, said she believes there is enough money in the budget to meet the teachers’ demands.

“I have been in this district for over 30 years and every year you over- estimate your expenditures and under-estimate your revenues so where does this extra money go? Into the reserves. Our reserves are among the highest in the state but you continue to insist that we keep these high reserves just in case we lose basic aid funding,” Baldwin said.

Districts are mandated by the state to have a 3 percent reserve and, according to the district, over the years the board has built reserves to buffer them from economic challenges. According to the latest budget, the district has a reserve of $16.2 million, or 34 percent. The district does have an additional $5.4 million in a special reserve fund, which taken together makes for a 46 percent reserve of $21.6 million.

During the recession that ran from 2007 through 2009, while many districts were forced to cut staff and programs and implemented furlough days, the district said Solana Beach was able to weather the recession without taking such dramatic measures due to its strong reserves.

Since 2014-15, the board has used the reserves to implement programs and provide a one-time 6 percent salary bonus for employees in 2016-17 that cost the district approximately $1.7 million. In 2016-17, the district deficit spent $2.4 million and in 2017-18 it is projected to deficit spend $2.9 million. By 2019-20, deficit spending is projected to reduce reserves by 20 percent.

The district is also looking at accommodating the growth of Pacific Highlands Ranch, increased costs for special education and increases in retirement program contributions. As an example, the district’s annual State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) contribution has grown from 8.25 percent in 2013-14 to 14.43 percent in 2017-18 and is expected to reach 19.1 percent in 2020-21.

Despite those challenges, Solana Highlands third grade teacher Felicity Smith reminded the board that negotiations are not just about budgets, spreadsheets and papers passed across tables among two sides — they are about the people it will effect.

“I’m asking you, the board, to change your fixed mindset on what teachers are worth,” Smith said. “This is your moment to champion for us the way that we champion for the students in our class. This is your opportunity to see the value in us…and to make a positive decision that will effect the people in this room. Investing in teachers is an investment in students.”

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