(This article originally ran Feb. 21, 2007)
By Karen Wilkinson
Triplicate staff writer
After much friction in recent months over teacher salary negotiations, the Del Norte County School District decided to go public with details this week.
At a December 2006 meeting the last time offers were on the table the district offered a 2.5 percent ongoing raise with a 1.5 percent one-time payment (also known as a bonus). Teachers asked for a 4 percent ongoing raise on their salary schedule.
The difference over pay raises remains the lone point keeping the district and teachers from coming to an agreement.
Though both offers total 4 percent, disagreement lies in how the funds will affect teachers down the road and whether they should be compensated for going four years straight without pay raises.
"We went through some bad budgetary times," said Del Norte Teachers Association President Mike Mealue. "Now is the time to recoup the cost of living we gave up.
"If (the Del Norte County School District) can't afford it now, when will they be able to afford it?"
After four months of offers and counter-offers, no deal has been reached. After the December meeting, the district and teachers union reached a stalemate and declared an impasse for the first time in nearly 10 years.
An outside mediator was brought in to persuade the parties to come to a mutual agreement. But that didn't happen, and he'll return to try again March 19.
"The fact that we agree on 4 percent is hopeful, as is the fact that we're continuing with mediation," district Super-intendent Jan Moorehouse said. "The agreement we reach must be one that the state will concur, after scrutinizing our situation, that we can fulfill three years from now, not just next year."
The arguments for and against paying teachers just what they want are strong.
The district says half of last year's 6 percent pay raise was taken out of this year's budget and its financial future is uncertain, given the declining enrollment trend and probable loss of $1.2 million in Federal Forest Reserve Funds.
"Declining enrollments and the loss of federal funds brings a new level of complexity to a budget that looks fat by contrast to past years, but in fact is temporarily bloated by restricted and one-time' funds," Moorehouse said.
But teachers say the district can pay what they're asking. They note a beefed-up district general reserve fund and a high cost of living allocation from the state. Bonuses also don't cut it for those on the retirement track, teachers say.
"While we've been fighting for additional salary increases this year, they've been putting money into savings," Mealue said. "It's almost like the district has decided to put money into their savings account before they pay their household bills and teachers are a bill."
Plus, one-time increases don't make their way onto the salary schedule, so they don't affect teachers' retirement fund.
"We have to look ahead for our members, and the way to do that is to get money on the salary schedule that is ongoing," Mealue said.
But there's a reason for that bonus offer, district officials say, pointing to restricted state funds and an obligation to keep a prudent budget for the future.
"With the vast majority of the funding received in the 2006-2007 being restricted and one-time, and with the high probability that the renewal of the Forest Reserve funding will be gone or at least drastically reduced at the end of this fiscal year, the district needs to be very careful about how much ongoing pay increases are given," said Rodney Jahn, deputy superintendent of business services.
Moorehouse noted many districts statewide are facing local budget control losses because they've been cited for poor spending. But in Del Norte County, "We have maintained a positive certification.
"When bargaining units call for the board to show them respect' by compensating them adequately, they must remember that respect' also requires assuring that students and staff members of the near future have not been harmed by unguardedly generous bargaining in the present time."
And though teachers have argued their salaries haven't kept up with the cost of living, the district disagrees.
Total compensation for teachers has increased 19.65 percent in the last five years, Jahn said, by 51.06 percent the last 10 years and 82.97 percent the last 18 years. These increases are compared to the annual consumer price index increases (for the Bay Area) of 9.22 percent, 26.63 percent and 52.75 percent respectively.
In addition, employee salaries and benefits represent more of the budget than in years past, leaving the district with fewer resources for other priorities, Jahn said.
"Twenty years ago, it seemed high when 80 percent of the district's resources were spent on salaries and benefits for its employees," he said. "In the years just audited 2005-2006 salaries and benefits accounted for 85.64 percent of all district general fund dollars spent.
"That leaves less than 15 percent for the instructional materials, fuel for the buses, paper and copier maintenance, computers, electricity, water, etc."
Mealue contends that teachers are the most important aspect to the educational process and should be treated as such.
"We're not trying to be greedy, (and) it's been pretty frustrating," he said. "The school board and administration keep saying they prioritize teachers ... they're saying it, but they're not showing it."
What's on the table
District's offer: 2.5 percent
ongoing raise with a
1.5 percent one-time
4 percent ongoing raise, no
The district says teachers'
total compensation has
during the past five years.
Teachers say salaries
during that time haven't
kept up with the cost of
The district says it has
less than 15% of the
budget to spend on
Teachers say they're the
core of each school but
lack officials' respect.