The Atascadero Unified School District on Tuesday allocated more than $25,000 for classroom supplies throughout the district after teachers and administrators clashed over an initial plan to use the money as a bonus for management employees.
Parents and members of the Atascadero District Teachers Association packed a Board of Trustees meeting to share their concerns about large class sizes and a lack of funding for classroom materials. They also expressed their frustration about a one-time $25,421 payment to management and contracted employees the board was set to consider.
Christine Williams, president of the Teachers Association, said members of her organization were “blindsided” on Friday, when they found out about the additional payment, and were “further blindsided by the rhetoric that is being used to justify the use of one-time funds to this group.”
During 2017 contract negotiations, Teachers Association representatives agreed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) stipulating they would receive a one-time payment of $167,908, equal to eight-tenths of a percent of the teachers’ salaries and benefits, according to district documents.
According to the agreement, Teachers Association planned to spend the money on two more teachers at the kindergarten through third-grade level and a stipend for Learning Center special education teachers.
During negotiations, Williams said the teachers were told there were no additional funds available for salary increases. She said teachers were recently surprised to learn that management and contracted employees were to receive the $25,421 one-time payment, also equal to eight-tenths of a percent of their salaries and benefits.
In fact, four groups of district employees received a similar one-time payment.
“The district never said, ‘This MOU is your percentage of what the board has authorized us to offer,’” Williams said. “They told us there was no money.”
Prior to the board’s vote, Superintendent Tom Butler told the audience and trustees that management and contracted employees had agreed to redirect their money to classroom materials in all district schools. He characterized the teachers’ angry response as a “family squabble” and said class size is “absolutely a stubborn issue that’s plaguing our family.”
“There was never any intent for any of these misunderstandings,” he said.
But teachers and parents in the audience — many of whom brought signs displaying their frustration — didn’t seem satisfied with Butler’s statements.
Some parents said their children feel their classrooms are too crowded to learn properly. Katie Martin, president of Santa Rosa Academic Academy’s Parent Teacher Association, spoke on her own behalf and said the school is running short on supplies, such as laminate.
“I would think something like basic supplies should be funded by the district,” she said.
Trustee Tami Gunther said the statements made by parents and teachers opened her eyes to the struggles district schools are facing: “I didn’t realize how deep the deficit was for materials.”
After the meeting, Williams said she was glad management and contracted staff were willing to redirect their funds for classroom materials, but the situation should never have reached that point.
“It’s really hard to trust everyone’s here for kids,” she said. “So we have some work to do.”
Butler said he disagreed with the Teachers Association’s characterization of the situation, but he’s ready to move forward and plan for the future.
“It’s really a chance for this whole district to come together,” he said.