School board finalizes teachers contract " but future negotiations loom | SierraSun.com

School board finalizes teachers contract " but future negotiations loom

The school district board of trustees finalized a labor agreement with teacher’s Wednesday, but the district and the teachers union will be back at the negotiating table within months to discuss the charter schools reserve fund and procedures for future negotiations.

The salary increase will be split into a series of 3 percent salary hikes, including a 3 percent raise for the 2007-08 school year, a 3 percent raise for the current school year, a 3 percent raise on Feb. 1, 2009 and a 3 percent raise on May 1, 2009.

The district’s next step will be to address budget changes to accommodate the salary increase, said Steve Jennings, superintendent for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.

“This year, we’re in a fairly comfortable position where it’s not going to require us to make any cuts and we have some flexibility to move some funds around,” Jennings said. “Next year, we’re going to have to look at tightening our belts.”

Where those cuts will be made in the 2009-10 school year has yet to be determined, but the district will be reviewing recommendations made in the past on budget cuts and will also look at other districts to examine feasible cutbacks, Jennings said.

“We’re going to put together a budget review process to look at what reductions could be made next year,” Jennings said.

The cutbacks are not only a result of the salary increase, but are also a consequence of the current economic climate and potential impacts from the state budget adopted Tuesday, Jennings said.

“Most school districts in the state are looking at making significant cuts,” Jennings said.

The district will be reviewing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget on Monday and the potential impact on school district funds, but at Wednesday’s meeting, Board Clerk Monty Folsom said “the Governor’s budget wasn’t too kind.”

Also on the district’s agenda for 2009 is to meet with the teacher’s union to discuss the charter schools reserve fund ” a component of the salary proposal that was omitted from the final agreement.

The total amount in the charter schools reserve is approximately $2.5 million and according to the most recent settlement proposal from the Tahoe Truckee Education Association, if the reserve is not required for the Nevada County Office of Education or directly for the charter schools, 68 percent of any remaining amount in the reserve should be paid to the teachers on a one-time basis.

Although a discrepancy over the fund delayed the teachers from accepting the contract agreement, the reserve component was ultimately excluded from the final contract under the condition that both parties would meet again in January to discuss the funds.

However, charter school officials say the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is currently out of compliance with state law for failing to pay the money in accordance with the state’s Education Code.

“They’re negotiating something they don’t have the right to negotiate,” said Terena Mendonca, associate superintendent of the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. “The law is very clear that they owe us the money.”

In February, the district was notified of their financial obligation to pay approximately $1.2 million for the 2007-08 school year for the students who reside within the district, but attend the charter schools.

The charter schools have yet to see the money, which has since increased to approximately $2.5 million to cover the 2008-09 school year, Mendonca said.

Because the district has basic aid status, it is required by law to pay the charter school funding equal to the statewide average of charter school revenue in order to educate students who either attend the Forest Charter schools in Truckee and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe or the Twin Ridges home study, Mendonca said.

“These are Tahoe-Truckee students who have chosen an alternative education, and the law provides that they [TTUSD] have to transfer a certain amount of property taxes to cover their education,” Mendonca said.

In an interview with the Sun in May, Jennings said the district would be exploring options to lessen the financial burden, but he could not be reached for comment before press time on Thursday.

The charter schools fund discussions slated for January will coincide with meetings on how best to proceed in future contract negotiations to avoid the salary disputes that have taken place over the years, Jennings said.