Letters to the Editor

Teachers at Lucia Mar only seeking fair wages

After months of negotiations and no significant progress in a final mediation session on Wednesday, Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association members have taken a strike authorization vote. While this does not mean with certainty there will be a teacher strike, the prospect is, sadly, now becoming more likely than ever, and if anything is going to avert a walkout, it needs to happen now. LMUTA, for our part, is still committed to doing what it takes to get a fair settlement without having to take that final step.

The issue separating the two sides is simply salary. Misplaced district priorities have allowed Lucia Mar teacher salaries to slide well below those of neighboring districts, including those with similar funding bases such as Orcutt and Santa Maria-Bonita. The pay discrepancy among Central Coast districts is now so large that a teacher could earn up to half a million dollars more over a career by leaving Lucia Mar. The last offer by the Lucia Mar Unified School District would only let teacher salaries slip farther behind. And while the LMUTA bargaining team has remained ready to work hard through compromise to craft a fair deal, the district has failed to put anything on the table that would reverse the current trend.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Jim Hogeboom spoke about our school district being a family, and how disheartened he was that we had reached this point. We agree. Lucia Mar is in many ways like a family, but for Lucia Mar teachers it is becoming an increasingly dysfunctional one, and what Superintendent Hogeboom apparently doesn’t recognize is that district employees also have actual families to consider. It was heartbreaking to hear a young teacher at that same meeting address the board about the very real pressure he is under as a husband and father to justify staying in Lucia Mar, when he could earn $15,000 more by moving just down the road to another district. He loves working here, but his responsibility to his real family may force his hand. Many more Lucia Mar teachers face that same kind of struggle every day.

Superintendent Hogeboom argues the district can’t afford to do better. That is simply not true, and he hasn’t offered anything to support that claim. The truth is the district received roughly a 10 percent increase in funding this year and is looking toward another 8 percent in 2015-16. These are irrefutable facts, yet while offering just a meager 2 percent raise for 2014-15, the district continues to tell the public that improving compensation is a top priority. You don’t need to be a math teacher to see the inconsistency there. If improving salaries and making Lucia Mar more competitive in teacher recruitment and retention were a priority, the district’s budget would reflect that.

Unfortunately, the district is throwing up more roadblocks to a fair settlement by disrupting the mediation process and illegally disclosing concepts that may have come up between the parties. If district officials think it’s worth violating good faith bargaining and prior mediation process agreements just to float a trial balloon, which is essentially the same 2 percent offer they’ve had all along, now adding insult to injury by offering the same amount for two subsequent years, they need a reality check. LMUTA is committed to achieving a settlement and to that end will continue to honor the mediation parameters. We urge the district to get down to business instead of violating agreements in an effort to see if they can divide our teachers.

Throughout this impasse, LMUTA members have received tremendous support from parents and community members. We are extremely grateful, and we want to assure everyone that a strike will only be a very reluctant and last step. We also know it can be confusing to hear conflicting information coming from the school district. LMUTA is committed to ensuring the data we provide the public and our members is accurate and sourced from the district’s own documents, as well as from county and state agencies. Our negotiations team has based all our proposals on facts and thorough budget analysis.

During the long economic downturn, LMUTA members made significant sacrifices to keep the district solvent and continue providing an excellent education to the students of our community. They were assured that that sacrifice would be recognized when things got better. Well, things have gotten better, and now is the time for the district to do what it takes to ensure that we continue to attract and retain the best possible teachers. It will be a shame if it requires teachers taking to the streets to make that happen; we urge the district to rethink its current position.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune