Lack of transparency on teacher contract vote

Points go to San Dieguito Union High School District superintendent Rick Schmitt for delaying the Board of Trustees’ vote on a new teacher contract, which was scheduled for last week.

Highlights of the contract, in brief, include the following:

•A 7-percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2015

•An additional 5.5-percent raise for 2015-2016

•An increase of $1,000 to all teachers for the English Learner credential

•A shift into salary of about $11,000 from a health care flex spending account

•Language that states the district’s teachers must be the highest paid in the county, through May 2018

Last week, the district said it could not post the proposed contract on its website until the San Dieguito Faculty Association’s teachers had given final approval to the contract, and that was not scheduled to happen until the night before the board meeting.

With the one-week delay, it was assumed that the contract would have been reviewed and approved by the SDFA last week on schedule, so the district could make the proposed agreement available to the public a week in advance of this week’s board meeting, to take place this Thursday, Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. at San Dieguito High School Academy in Encinitas.

However, a snag has arisen that thwarts the effort at transparency.

As of Monday, Dec. 14, the contract was still not on the district website.

This possible explanation comes from SDFA president Bob Croft: “As the school board’s consideration of our new contract was delayed until December 17, the SDFA executive board decided to allow an extended time in which our members may submit their ballots on the new agreement.”

Later, Croft added this: “With the district deciding on the delay – not SDFA – why wouldn’t SDFA then want to take advantage of that opportunity to ensure our membership had additional time to submit their ballots? SDFA’s executive board most certainly wanted to do our best, given the circumstance, to allow as many members as possible to submit ballots and have their voices heard. I believe that is simply SDFA working to meet the needs of our members.”

Word is that the teachers may take until this Wed., Dec. 16, to ratify – which of course defeats the whole purpose of delaying the trustee meeting one week.

If the district can’t make the contract available until SDFA approves it, and if the teachers don’t approve it until a day before the new date for the board meeting, then what was the point of the postponement?

We’re back to where we started – with no transparency on this all-important agreement.

The point of moving the meeting one week later was to allow the public a chance to review the contract and provide feedback to trustees. By delaying the SDFA vote, the public is denied that opportunity.

The district did the right thing by postponing the board meeting a week. In an email, Schmitt said, “I delayed the vote in order to give the public more time to review the fiscal impact of the contract.”

SDFA’s delay undermines Schmitt’s attempt at openness and his efforts to be responsive to the public’s needs.

Schmitt said there’s no new information that altered the contract in any way since last week. And there seems to be no controversy over the contract among teachers (Croft has signed it on behalf of the membership), so it’s unclear why the delay.

Whatever the reason, the unintended (or perhaps intended) consequence is that the contract is still not being made public in enough time before trustees are to vote.

At a minimum, the public should be given a full week to review the contract, because it is so substantive. This delaying tactic of the SDFA’s is not helpful.

Schmitt said he checked with lawyers to see if he can legally post the contract before it’s been ratified. But the answer came back no.

Counsel advised to make the tentative agreement public “as soon as the district receives word that the teachers unit has ratified the tentative agreement. We assume that will be some time Wednesday evening … We also advise that the district have copies of the tentative agreement available at the board meeting on Thursday for the public to review.”

Board dissension

Board members Mo Muir and John Salazar have registered serious doubts about aspects of the contract, and both of them initially said they could not attend the Dec. 17 meeting (Muir has since altered her schedule so she can attend), prompting this reaction from school board president Beth Hergesheimer:

“I’m sorry that Mr. Salazar and Mrs. Muir are not taking their jobs as public servants seriously and choosing instead to be disruptive forces in our community.”

“The interest-based bargaining process that we used leading to this tentative agreement has been used in this district since the 1980s with no controversy, including the one-meeting approval format,” Hergesheimer said.

“It is a shame that focus in our district is being taken away from educating our students,” she added.

“Is this in the best interest of our students, or could limited funds be more responsibly spent on behalf of our students and employees?” said Salazar, about the agreement. “If we have a lot more money, does it not make more sense to hire more teachers and lower class size?”

Commented Muir, “If the board truly wants to be transparent and diligent in reaching a successful agreement or outcome between the teachers union and the district taxpayers, the board will postpone this decision until fiscal and long-term obligations can be adequately reviewed and analyzed in an open and participatory manner.”

All this frostiness is entertaining but academic: The contract will be supported by SDFA – and the board, unless all indications prove wrong, will vote 3-2 in favor. And the public will be denied the opportunity to have reasonable time to review the contract.

Being number one

Perhaps the most troubling language in the contract states that the district is contractually bound to guarantee a number-one position for teacher compensation in the county.

The contract reads, “In May of 2017, and then subsequently, in May of 2018, the district and SDFA shall review the certificated salary schedule as it applies to the following benchmark: The salary schedule benchmark for purposes of comparison shall be the certificated salary schedules of our comparison band of San Diego County public school districts at the MA after, or as close to, 13 years of service as possible.

“The district shall calculate the minimum percentage (1 percent) increase necessary to ensure that the SDUHSD’s certificated schedule maintains its number one ranking at this benchmark, and the district shall apply such percentage (1%) increments necessary to the entire salary schedule retroactive to July 1 of the school year being reviewed.”

Croft defended this section of the contract, saying, “In the view of the SDFA executive board, our educators more than deserve to be the best paid here in San Diego County.”

Schmitt said the district’s teachers were ranked at about 10th or 11th in the county for pay, and it was important to “regain” the top spot in the county as the district with the highest paid teachers.

Although unsure why this is so important, I nevertheless checked with the San Diego County Office of Education to obtain the latest information on teacher salary rankings for all 42 county school districts, and saw a very different picture.

Unless there is another comparison the district is using, San Dieguito teachers seem to be doing quite well.

For the 2014-2015 school year, according to the 2015 SDCOE San Diego County Schools Teacher Compensation Survey, here are the top five districts with the highest paid teachers holding master’s degrees, the metric the SDFA wants used:

For teachers with 10 years of experience:

San Dieguito -- $84,426

SD County Office of Ed -- $82,720

Valley Center -- $81,369

Del Mar Union -- $81,355

Solana Beach -- $80,530

For teachers with 15 years of experience:

SD County Office of Ed -- $90,389

San Dieguito -- $89,506

Solana Beach -- $89,203

Del Mar Union -- $88,881

Encinitas -- $87,100

For teachers with 20 years of experience:

Encinitas -- $98,736

Solana Beach -- $94,118

San Dieguito -- $92,016

Del Mar Union -- $91,390

Oceanside -- $90,891

Being number one is nice, but there are clearly non-monetary benefits to teaching in San Dieguito: smart students, high test scores, involved parents, new or fully modernized facilities, affluent communities, the latest technology and equipment, active foundations and generous donors. All this has to count for something.

Also, what does this say to donors who contribute their dollars to school foundations, to provide “extras” for the students that the district says it cannot afford?

Further, language like this in a contract is alarming because of the domino effect it could have if other districts also decide to include the same language in their contracts.

Other districts

Although San Dieguito teachers do receive annual “step-and-column” increases, for longevity and education credentials, it is true that they have not received an increase on their master salary schedule since 2007.

“It was time to do something,” Schmitt said.

The district points to the Solana Beach School District, where teachers have received an average increase in salary of 2 percent per year since 2007, amounting to 18 percent over the past nine years.

SBSD superintendent Terry Decker said the adjustments also apply to all certificated, classified and administration employees, as well as teachers.

If the San Dieguito contract passes, all its employees will also receive the same increases in compensation that the teachers have negotiated.

Going back three years, Del Mar Union School District employees received 2 percent in 2013-2014 and 1.71 percent in 2014-2015. Negotiations are ongoing for the current year.

The Rancho Santa Fe School District has given no contract increases in the past three years, said RSF superintendent Lindy Delaney, although off-schedule (one-time, not on-going) money was given as follows: 2 percent in 2013-2014, 3 percent in 2014-2015, and 3 percent in 2015-2016.

“Our educators have been outstanding partners with our district and sacrificed to help SDUHSD through recent very challenging financial times,” Croft said, referring to the many years of no contract raises. “We are proud now that this new agreement was achieved without the slightest bit of strife or conflict seen in other districts.”

Croft took aim at critics, saying it is “an attempt to serve the detractors’ personal ideological purposes, which,” he said, “do not represent our district’s, nor our community’s, best interests.”

Reserves

Eric Dill, SDUHSD‘s associate superintendent of business services, said the cost this year for the 7 percent increase will be about $4.1 million, and about $4.8 million for the 5.5 percent raise next year.

Because this is not a one-time expense and will continue basically in perpetuity, the question is how is it sustainable.

Dill said a combination of money in reserves and anticipated increases in state funding due to increased enrollment will cover the costs for years to come.

Schmitt said the district had about 15 percent of its budget in reserves in 2012, a figure that has nearly doubled today.

Reserve levels after the contract is approved are estimated to be 18 percent at the end of 2016, 13 percent at the end of fiscal year 2017, and 10.4 percent at the end of fiscal 2018, Schmitt said. The required minimum by the state is 3 percent.

He said the agreement “provides budget stability,” adding that “our community has supported our employees over the years.”

Present during the negotiations for the district were Schmitt, SDUHSD associate superintendent of human resources Torrie Norton, and SDUHSD associate superintendent of administrative services Jason Viloria (all of whom benefit from the contract), and Bob Croft and Adrienne St. George for the faculty association.

Schmitt said the district has a history and track record of being fiscally conservative, and that there is money to pay for these raises well into the future, based on healthy reserves, conservative assumptions, and realistically rosy projections.

“Our new contractual agreement provides the financial security, health benefits, and contractual language stability that our members deserve, and which was achieved without engaging in the adversarial negotiations and counterproductive conflict seen in so many districts,” Croft said.

San Dieguito educators, he said, “have very much earned every aspect of this new agreement.”

Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

[For more details on the contract, see next column.]

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