My Turn: We must disavow divisive tactics
President of the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Board of Trustees
If our school district is to realize its potential, we must disavow the divisive tactics that pit teachers against the district and learn to work together. The first step in achieving this goal is to develop a shared understanding of the challenges we face, using that understanding to make interest-based decisions predicated on the most important interest of all ” that of our students.
One of the unanticipated issues confronting our district is a $1.2 million charter school obligation. This past school year, the sponsorship of several charter schools was transferred from the Twin Ridges School District to the Nevada County Office of Education. That change triggered an obscure clause in California Education Code which specified that basic aid districts (like ours) must pay for each student residing in the district but who attends a county-chartered school ” roughly $6,200 per student for 2007-08. As a consequence, the district faces an ongoing obligation in excess of a million dollars annually, calculated based on the number of charter school students enrolled during that year.
Although we are actively pursuing ways to mitigate this liability, it remains unclear whether there is a realistic chance to eliminate or even reduce this obligation. Until we have exhausted all possibilities, we have prudently held funds in reserve to cover this debt.
As a tangible demonstration of our appreciation and support for our teachers, the district made a written offer which includes a 12 percent salary increase over two years. This would raise their salaries from a starting level of almost $46,000 to a maximum of just over $90,000. But keeping this promise will require difficult cuts, especially when 83 percent of our budget is already dedicated to employee compensation.
An advisory committee will be convened to review options for budget reductions needed to achieve a balanced budget. In addition to the cost of the 12 percent raise, we face reductions in state and federal categorical programs. These funds support areas such as special education, transportation, and food programs, which have all been experiencing escalating costs and a decrease in revenues. Measure A will also experience program cuts, as its funding is fixed (a flat $98 per parcel tax) but over 75 percent of its budget supports teacher salaries, which will grow by 12 percent. Finally, our budgetary reserve must be increased to ensure that we can meet our financial obligations if our already bad economy gets significantly worse. All of these budget decisions will be evaluated based on their impact on achieving our educational goals, especially exiting from Program Improvement status.
In addition to the 12 percent raise offered by the district, the union negotiators have requested 68 percent of the charter school money if it becomes available ” a possibility of more than $1.5 million over two years ” as a one-time bonus to distribute among their membership at their discretion.
Additionally, agreeing to it would shift the oversight of district funds from the elected trustees and the superintendent to one specific bargaining group.
It is the trustees’ duty to provide the fiduciary oversight in allocating the district’s limited resources to create the best educational system possible, balancing the needs of all interests within the district. We feel that if the charter school obligation was eventually eliminated or significantly reduced, these funds should be used to the benefit of students, backfilling the cuts that will be required to pay for the 12 percent salary increase.
The board is also concerned that by tying employee compensation to the uncertain reduction in our charter school liability, we are unlikely to end compensation-related distractions for this school year. Too much time and energy has already been spent on adversarial negotiations over money, diverting everyone’s attention away from what should be our top priority ” a quality education for all our children. The focus of our teachers should not be on second guessing legal strategies regarding the charter school issue, but on how to ensure a great educational environment for every child.
In fact, it is only through the latter that we have a chance of truly eliminating our charter school obligation by working together to create the kind of educational system that brings many of those charter students back into our classrooms.
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