Two sides to teacher pay story | SierraSun.com

Two sides to teacher pay story

Cindy Gustafson

There are almost always two sides to every story. Recognizing that, I am responding as one of your Tahoe Truckee Unified School District trustees to some of the information presented in last week’s paper.

This is not meant to discount the emotions about teachers’ salaries. It is true that teachers within the district, like many in our community, are caught between skyrocketing housing costs, double-digit increases in health insurance rates, and salaries that aren’t keeping pace. But the only way for us to address these critical issues is to work together, using the facts to make the best possible choices for our children.

Over the last 20 years, the district has provided salary and benefit increases in excess of the new revenues received. These increases are above the ongoing step and column increases earned for years of experience and additional education. However, we recognize that even taken together, these increases are still inadequate to keep pace.

Employee compensation and benefits represent 85 percent of the district’s total budget, and even slight changes create significant impacts. The recent offer of an additional 1 percent on the pay scale for 2004-2005, was never meant to represent teachers’ value, it only reflects the funding available. Earlier in 2004-2005, to counter the double-digit medical premium increase, a 3 percent pay increase was offered.

The teachers accepted this increase and elected to put these funds toward their medical insurance. Even with this 3 percent and the rejected 1 percent offer, totaling approximately $1 million, some employees would still have a net decrease in take-home pay for 2004-2005.

Employees are also facing a 16.5 percent increase in medical insurance premiums for 2005-2006.

Last year, the district board faced a $1.4 million budget deficit. To balance the budget we had to make cuts and reallocations of $875,000 and use $550,000 of state-mandated reserves, which the state allowed us to reduce for one year only. The majority of these funds were needed to address employee and retiree medical insurance increases.

At the time, we informed the community that the crisis wasn’t over, and that we would be mandated to re-pay the $550,000 in the next fiscal year. As a result, we remain fiscally challenged for one more school year. The good news is that in 2006-2007, we are projected to have revenues in excess of expenses. However, future funds do not help us address the issues today. We must reduce current expenses if we want to increase spending elsewhere.

To address this, the district board asked for a broad-based budget review committee, representing the community and employees. The committee has spent many hours familiarizing themselves with the budget and the outlook for the next two years. They have met four times and will be presenting a list of prioritized cuts for the school board’s review on June 1.

This prioritized list is NOT their recommendation as to what SHOULD be cut. It only represents their opinion on the priority of certain changes if needed. We recognize that making changes that impact our children’s educational environment are extremely difficult and controversial. Public input it vitally important. We need to hear from the public about the impacts of the proposed alternatives so that we can best represent the entire community. Ultimately it is our job, as the board, to weigh the trade-offs between revenue demands and the corresponding cuts that would need to be made.

Administrators are almost always a target in the debate over teachers’ salaries. The trustees value all employees and understand that it takes everyone doing a quality job for our children to prosper. The trustees have continued to ask for more efficiencies in administration and the superintendent is continuing to pursue this goal. Unfortunately, change does not happen immediately, and in many cases can be frustratingly slow due to legalities of the public employment system.

The board’s decision to adjust salaries of three key administrators has repeatedly been a focus of contention. Taken out of context and without explanation, it is portrayed as inappropriate. Yet the facts are that these were enacted several years ago, ahead of the current situation. When making these decisions, the board considered several factors, including:

– Alignment with other positions in Tahoe Truckee Unified School District;

– Comparative information with other districts;

– The experience and performances of the individuals involved and the value of those positions to the effective operation of TTUSD.

The total impact of these adjustments was less than $17,000, or just one thousandth of 1 percent (0.001 percent) of the total allocated to teachers’ salaries. To suggest that these adjustments have significantly and detrimentally impacted the latter is simply not based on the facts.

In closing, I hope that we can all make a sincere effort to avoid the emotional and sometimes personal attacks that have plagued us in the past. Threatening tactics will not generate the funding needed to solve our budgetary problems. Instead, we must work together to solve the problems we face, basing our decisions on an objective analysis of all the facts, and recognizing that there are no easy answers. After all, isn’t this what our children deserve?