Unhappy with stalled contract negotiations, teachers in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District are taking their message public and to their campuses.
The school board and the teachers union have been unable to reach an agreement during contract talks. The union says that a cost-of-living increase is fair. The district says that now is not the time because of financial worries.
“All we are asking for is for something on the schedule that will help teachers,” said Bruce Badrigian, president of the San Luis Coastal Teachers Association. “We feel that salaries are shrinking and at the same time we are constantly being asked to do more.”
Teachers last received a 3 percent raise in the 2008-09 school year.
Rick Robinett, assistant superintendent of personnel and education services, said there is no question that teachers are working harder and facing more demands.
“I agree completely,” Robinett said. “It is tough being a teacher — it is good hard work.”Robinett said the district has offered other financial incentives, such as letting teachers work two professional development days (nonteaching days) for which they would be paid per day.
“It is not a raise in the traditional sense of a cost-of-living increase because they would be working for it,” Robinett said. “An ongoing raise is not a fiscally prudent thing to be looking at right now.”
San Luis Coastal — the county’s second-largest school system — runs public schools in San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, Los Osos and Avila Beach.
Unlike most school districts in San Luis Obispo County, which receive state funding based on attendance, the majority of San Luis Coastal’s revenue comes from local property taxes. Considered a “basic aid” district, it has a $72 million general fund budget this year.
The district does, however, receive categorical and other funds from the state. In the current 2010-11 fiscal year, the district lost $2.5 million of funding from the state. Robinett said that next year the district could lose up to $10 million in state funds.
“With the economy as it is, a cost-of-living increase is not something that many people are expecting right now,” Robinett said.
Badrigian counters by saying that the district has a hefty reserve fund that could be used toward teachers’ salaries.
The school district has a 10 percent reserve, while the state mandates only a 3 percent reserve. The district says that money is necessary should San Luis Coastal lose its basic-aid status.
“We don’t want the district hoarding millions of dollars for what they say is needed for a possible doomsday,” Badrigian said.
The next step in negotiations, a “fact-finding” process, will soon begin and likely carry on into the summer.
In that process, a neutral person hired by the union and the district is to look at both sides of the negotiations and a panel is to publish a report with recommendations for the school board.
“The school board has the ultimate authority and can make the decision they want,” Robinett said.
Teachers plan to show up in numbers at Tuesday’s school board meeting and speak during the public-comment period about their concerns.
This week they have put colorful posters in their cars parked in schools’ parking lots and worn T-shirts of varying colors to work to call the public’s attention to their cause.
“Teachers feel like they are being forced into a state of mediocrity,” Badrigian said. “We feel frustrated that our school board is not willing to move ahead and budge.”
The school board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Adult School Multipurpose Room at the District Administration Complex, 1500 Lizzie St., San Luis Obispo.