In reflecting upon the current stalemate between the Lucia Mar Unified School District and the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association (LMUTA), I cannot help but see the current situation as a failure of the adults to model skills that we have identified as being so important to teach our students.
As was so insightfully pointed out by one of our young high school juniors in this paper, we have failed to model the key 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity that we know are crucial to success in today’s complex world. If these “4 C’s” are so critical for our students to master, obviously they are keys for success in adult relationships as well.
From my viewpoint, it is clear that the district’s communication has not reached enough of our community, so our budget constraints have not been made clear. As a result, the teachers’ union has made several claims that are not accurate but are accepted by many teachers and others. Specifically, there is the belief that the district can afford a 10 percent pay increase and that somehow we have just not prioritized our teachers in our budget. These claims are simply not true.
If the district gave a 10 percent raise to our employees, this would cause us to spend $15.6 million more than we receive in funding in two years. We simply can’t afford to provide an increase anywhere close to 10 percent that would not necessitate millions of dollars in cuts.
Did you know that Lucia Mar pays nearly 92 percent of its unrestricted general fund in salary and benefits for all of our employees, which is more than any other district in our county? This means that only 8 percent of our budget is left for books, supplies, services and operational costs. We do value our people, as evidenced by the fact that we spend more of our budget on our people than any other district around.
While it is true that Lucia Mar teachers are paid less than some of their counterparts in a few of our neighboring school districts, including San Luis Coastal and Santa Maria-Bonita, this is an unfair comparison because some school districts receive thousands more dollars per student than Lucia Mar. As a result, teacher pay inequities will arise among districts. San Luis Coastal receives $3,241 more per student each year, and Santa Maria-Bonita receives $2,261 more per student each year than we do here in Lucia Mar.
While Gov. Jerry Brown’s new local control funding formula is helping to make school district funding more equitable in the state, it is not yet a reality.
Lucia Mar continues to be a lower-funded school district, but even so our board of trustees has made good on its goal of increasing our compensation over time, which came out as one of our most important priorities through our strategic planning process. Over the past three years, including the current 2 percent offer, we have given a total increase of 8.3 percent, which is much more than any other district in the county. We are committed to our staff, we respect our staff, we value our staff and we are doing all we can to provide competitive salaries within our budget. It would be fiscally irresponsible for our board to hand out a large raise and then have to make drastic cuts and layoffs in future years to pay for it.
The other important 21st century skill that has been lacking amongst the adults is that of collaboration. When I first arrived in Lucia Mar seven years ago, LMUTA and the district collaborated on several important issues, including the submission of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant, which has brought in $7.2 million to our district over the past five years. It takes two parties to want to work together, and when LMUTA is ready to collaborate and compromise again, we can move this district forward together. Teamwork and working together towards a common goal have obviously been missing these past few years.
So this brings us back to our current stalemate. We have one more fact-finding mediation session scheduled for Wednesday, and if we can’t find common ground on that date, the possibility of a strike becomes more likely, which will impact our students, strain relationships, increase mistrust and have a lasting negative impact on our district for years to come.
The district does value our employees and has made progress toward improving salaries. But we cannot give away money that we simply do not have and put the district at financial risk, because that is when students will experience both disruption in their education and loss of opportunities that truly effective teachers and outstanding programs provide.
I am still hopeful that by applying the other 21st century skill of creativity we might yet be able to resolve our current differences. For the sake of our students, let’s make it happen!