Hundreds of San Luis Coastal Unified School District teachers, most dressed in blue, rallied Tuesday to protest an impasse in contract negotiations.
About 300 people, mostly teachers, packed a school board meeting held in Los Osos Middle School's cafeteria to urge district administrators to settle a contract dispute and avoid a strike — a step that teachers said they do not want to take.
Many clutched signs reading, "He speaks for us," and held them high as San Luis Coastal Teachers Association President Paul Orton, a counselor at Morro Bay High, addressed the school board.
“Negotiations have dragged on far too long, and we think it's time to settle,” Orton said. “A quality education system is achieved by investing in teachers, not showing them this type of disrespect.”
The union represents more than 400 teachers and other employees at schools in Los Osos, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Union members have been working under an old contract for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years; they rejected a tentative agreement with the district last fall.
A fact-finding hearing is set for Feb. 26, but both sides will meet before that, on Feb. 20, to see whether they can resolve the outstanding issues.
“We’re hopeful that we can reach an agreement,” San Luis Coastal Superintendent Eric Prater said in an interview Monday. “We’re trying to have empathy but also do what’s best in the long term.”
There are 15 schools in the district — 10 elementary schools, two middle schools and three high schools — enrolling a total of about 7,500 students.
While the district is funded differently than its neighbors — it receives funds from local property taxes rather than state money based on enrollment — it has not been immune to budget cuts over the past few years.
In 2012 and 2013, the district board voted to cut about $4.5 million and $4.2 million, respectively, which resulted in layoffs and cuts to programs, transportation and teacher training.
A budget projection through the 2020-21 school year estimates a 2 percent annual increase in property tax and total revenues growing to more than $83 million, but also anticipates dipping into reserve funds each year to balance the budget.
District administrators said they are also facing increased required payments into employee pensions, as well as increased costs for employee health care. But employees say their health care costs also are increasing, cutting into the amount of money they take home.
“We're a body that’s willing to work super hard, but we want to be compensated fairly,” said Liz Moore, a multimedia teacher at Morro Bay High School. “I think teachers put in far more time than the community knows. Teachers want to be better, all the time.”
In the San Luis Coastal district, negotiations have stalled over a few points, Orton said: compensation; formalizing prep time for kindergarten through third-grade teachers; and whether district administrators or teachers have control over collaboration time for elementary school teachers.
Teachers did not have a raise in the 2010-11 school year. In 2011-12, they received a 3.6 percent increase, including 1.6 percent to compensate for working three extra days.
In addition, since the district and the union agreed on a redesigned evaluation system before Oct. 1, 2012, union members received an additional 3 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2011 — increasing the total salary bump for the 2011-12 year to 6.6 percent.
But teachers have not had a raise since then, Orton noted. And though they still receive increases in pay as they move up a salary schedule, 74 district teachers have worked more than 25 years and are at the top of that “step and column” system.
“I’m making less every year,” Orton said. “I’m stuck at the top step, and health care costs are going up so my check is getting smaller.”
The tentative agreement rejected by teachers included a one-time $500 cash payment, Orton said.
“It was supposedly to help with health care, but it didn’t come close to covering that,” he said.
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