The tentative agreement reached Wednesday between the Lucia Mar Unified School District and its teachers union calls for a 3 percent raise, effective April 1, and an additional 3 percent increase after Jan. 1, 2016, putting an end to threats of a potential districtwide teachers strike.
The new agreement will cost the district about $4 million over two years — more than the district's original offer of a 2 percent pay increase costing $1.37 million for just the 2014-15 school year, though still less than the $6.85 million the union’s request for a 10 percent raise in the same school year would have cost. The contract also can be renegotiated on salary, benefits and one other discretionary item for the 2016-17 school year.
After 10 months of contract negotiations, both sides expressed relief following the announcement.
“This agreement is the result of hard compromise, after countless hours of dedication by our negotiations team,” said union President Donna Kandel. “Our focus has been on getting a settlement, and, if at all possible, avoiding a strike."
District Superintendent Jim Hogeboom echoed that sentiment. “We worked really hard on this, and I’m just relieved,” he said Wednesday night.
The agreement still must be ratified by the union membership next week and by the school board.
In the months of negotiations, critics of the district claimed a 2 percent raise was not a fair offer for a district sandwiched between two higher-paying school districts — "2 won't do" was a popular chant among protesters. The average teacher salary in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District was $67,320 in 2013, and $74,718 for the same year in the Santa Maria-Bonita district, while the average Lucia Mar salary was $61,613.
The district claimed, however, that it could not support more than a 2 percent raise without seriously damaging its financial viability.
At a mediation session two weeks ago, before the tentative agreement was reached Wednesday, the district offered 6 percent over three school years: a 2 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2014; 1 percent to take effect July 1, 2015; 2 percent to take effect March 1, 2016; and 1 percent effective Jan. 1, 2017.
The union left that session without accepting the offer.
Hogeboom said Thursday the new agreement is within the district's budget because it is split into phases and not retroactive to the start of the fiscal year on July 1, 2014.
This way, the district will only be on the hook for the 3 percent raise for the last quarter of this fiscal year and the first half of 2015-16, before increasing again next January.
By spreading the raise out over more time, the district will have the ability to "phase in" the extra costs associated with the increase, Hogeboom said.
Lucia Mar will also cut about $125,000 from the district office budget, and move roughly $1 million from the general fund into the Local Control Accountability Program — which is largely funded by state grants — to free up money to go to the pay increase.
It will also put on hold several projects the district had previously budgeted for, such as technology improvements and updated course materials for some classes, Hogeboom said.
“Some of those things will need to be put on the back burner,” he said. “They’ll need to wait until we can get a bond issue or something like that. But our employees are our priority.”