Local teachers, district reach salary impasse
Teachers and the local school district are once again at odds over salary increases, but this time the disagreement is being played out against the backdrop of a constricting state budget and local education funding worries.Scores of employees, many of them teachers according to the teachers union negotiator Scott Beaudry, came to show their support for the unions request of a 12 percent raise in salary during a regular meeting on March 5 of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board of trustees.The unions request would put members in line with other educators in basic aid districts, teachers union leader Jim Driscoll said.Right now, we are the lowest paid of the category, Driscoll said.Bargaining for pay and benefits over the last two years have proven to be contentious. Two years ago the teachers picketed outside of Truckee High School. This years round of negotiations is beginning to meet with its share of issues.The union began the negotiations with a request for 15 percent and are now asking for 12, Driscoll said. The district initially offered 2.5 percent increase and is now offering three, he said.Because neither side can agree, an impasse has been reached, said Driscoll, causing the appointment of a designated mediator.The salary negotiations with the mediator should begin in May, said the districts interim superintendent Jo Lynn Wilson.Last year, teachers agreed to a 9.5 percent increase to compensate for the high cost of living in the Tahoe-Truckee area, according to Beaudry in a previous interview.The requests for pay increases comes at a time when all state-funded departments are scrambling to deal with proposed cuts of 10 percent. Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggers budget proposal would cut $360 million from school budgets statewide this year and then seeks to suspend Proposition 98, which guarantees kindergarten through community college funding the following year, according to the districts financial services firm.Also, the state mandates that the district keep 3 percent of its budget in reserves for a fiscal crisis. The district currently has about 3.6 percent in reserve, according to the districts Assistant Superintendent of Business Earl Wammack.The district suffered a surprise hit to its budget last week when it received a letter notifying them of their obligation to pay $1.2 million for two charter schools in the district. Because of the districts basic aid designation it is obligated to assist the funding the charter schools that were approved by the Nevada County of Office of Education.The obligation was discussed at the board meeting but the financial news did not stop the teachers and union representatives from making impassioned speeches at the podium during the public comment portion of the board meeting. Although both sides have admitted that multi-year contracts are better for both sides, rather than re-negotiating every year, the sticking point seems to be the basic aid piece of the puzzle.Wammack said the amount of property tax funding is usually not known until August, making it difficult to predict how much the district will have to work with.Wilson said back in November, when negotiations were just getting off the ground, she hoped for a speedy conclusion to the negotiations, including the possibility of a multi-year contract. But now she said, considering the Governors report in January and the charter school funding obligation, an agreement of that sort may have been premature.Property taxes from basic aid districts do not contribute to a state pool of money, like most California public school districts, but instead stay within the district. Although property taxes are flattening or dropping all over the state, Tahoe Truckee is not among the hardest hit. As a result the district is looking at a 9.5 percent revenue increase for the 2007-08 budget year, Driscoll said. Driscoll said the district should share that revenue increase with teachers. State budget proposals have still not been agreed on, Driscoll pointed out to the packed house last week.The [teachers union] will fight the governor, he said.