Education

Lucia Mar teachers rally for raises at district board meeting

Members of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association crowd into a school board meeting Tuesday carrying signs reading, "This is a dress rehearsal," in reference to a possible strike over contract negotiations.

Tribune photo by Joe Johnston
Members of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association crowd into a school board meeting Tuesday carrying signs reading, "This is a dress rehearsal," in reference to a possible strike over contract negotiations. Tribune photo by Joe Johnston Joe Johnston

In preparation for a possible strike, Lucia Mar Unified School District teachers assembled en masse at a school board meeting Tuesday, silently holding up signs that read, “This is a dress rehearsal.”

More than 200 teachers marched down Orchard Street before packing the district’s Arroyo Grande boardroom to show their displeasure over an impasse in contract negotiations.

The Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association is seeking a 10 percent raise, and the district has offered a 2 percent raise. The previous contract between the union and the district expired June 30, and the two sides are now stalled in mediation, with a fact-finding hearing scheduled for Feb. 27.

Outside the school board meeting, English teacher Laura Wade of Arroyo Grande High School said teachers don’t want to strike but are unified and prepared if the district’s offer doesn’t change.

“Nobody wants to strike,” Wade said. “It would affect local families. Nobody wants that, but we’re ready, and it’s in the control of the district to prevent that from happening.”

The district received an increase in revenues from the state for the 2014-15 school year, with about $6.6 million in new money in its $80 million budget.

The union is pushing to make raises a priority, while the district is saying it needs to balance teacher pay with other needs, including facilities, technology and program costs.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Arroyo Grande High School football coach and physical education teacher Tom Goossen addressed the board, flanked by supportive faculty members.

“Teachers are an afterthought in this process,” Goossen said, speaking on behalf of the union as a member. “Whether it’s real or not, that’s the perception. We want our fair share.”

A longtime district employee, Goossen said he didn’t know what the percent pay hike may end up being. However, he said, students are most influenced by teachers, and that needs to be reflected in budgetary decisions.

“People are what make a difference,” he said.

District Superintendent Jim Hogeboom said he’d “love to give teachers a 10 percent raise,” but that was not a realistic option given other spending needs.

“We have great, hard-working employees,” Hogeboom said. “But we also have to work within certain parameters.”

Hogeboom said the district needs to pay for tutors and services to close the achievement gap for disadvantaged students such as English-learning students and foster children. Those costs make up about $2.3 million of the additional funding this year.

Parents also have pushed for improved technology and facilities, Hogeboom said, and additional funding has been designated for pension costs.

Hogeboom said a 2 percent raise for faculty would amount to about $1.3 million, which would be the second highest priority in this year’s additional monies.

Union President Donna Kandel argued that teachers made sacrifices, such as not receiving raises for several years during the recession while also embracing change in new board initiatives.

“We are deeply disappointed that the school board has thus far failed to offer the teachers a reasonable settlement,” Kandel said. “Teachers want to be focused on educating our students but instead are having to deal with a board that isn’t making this a priority.”

Kandel said Lucia Mar is losing good young teachers to other higher-paying school districts, such as San Luis Coastal Unified.

San Luis Coastal has an average teacher salary of about $71,000, compared with about $61,000 at Lucia Mar, according to data compiled by The Sacramento Bee last year.

But Hogeboom said the difference is that San Luis Coastal has a different funding formula as a basic-aid district, receiving the bulk of its budget from property taxes that amount to higher school revenues than the state funding formula based on per-pupil payment allocations.

San Luis Coastal receives $10,430 per student, compared with $7,189 per student at Lucia Mar, Hogeboom said.

While teachers did not receive raises during the recession, Hogeboom said the district has made them a priority and gave a combined 6.3 percent raise over the past two school years.

That raise was in addition to the step increases that teachers receive from gained experience. Hogeboom said the district’s retention rate is similar to that of other districts.

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