2017-04-20 / Community
Teachers make case for raises
Frustrations made public at meeting
Fueled largely by Monster energy drinks, Sequoia Middle School music teacher Karla Stevenson regularly works early mornings and late nights. She said she puts in longer hours than required by her contract out of a passion for her job.
“It’s the unspoken promise to our students that we give them the best that can be given, and that, my friends, is what makes Conejo Valley Unified School District a choice destination for education,” she said.
Stevenson was one of several teachers who took to the school board podium April 4 to make their case for higher wages and better contract terms.
Dozens of educators donned union shirts at the board meeting as their colleagues spoke out on labor negotiations between CVUSD and employee unions, namely the Unified Association of Conejo Teachers, the California School Employees Association and the Conejo Valley Pupil Personnel Association.
Negotiations have spanned the past six months, appearing on the board’s closed-session agenda 12 times since October. School district and union representatives negotiate a full contract every three years.
UACT president Randy Smith said union members based their proposal—which originally included a salary increase and early retirement bonuses—on the district’s interim financial reports. He represents roughly 920 teachers, nurses and speech-and-language providers out of CVUSD’s 2,000 employees.
“We come to the district with salary proposals we know are attainable and sustainable for the district. We would never do anything or propose anything that would put us in financial jeopardy,” he said.
But optimism over the budget isn’t universal.
During the last interim financial report, presented to the board March 7, Victor Hayek, deputy superintendent of business services, said declining enrollment costs the district $4 million to $5 million in state funding per year.
Add in an increase in pension contributions and, Hayek said, in order to preserve existing programs without major cuts, the district will have to dip into one-time funds to shore up its operating budget.
“Expenses are clearly outpacing our revenues,” he said. “We’re losing revenue at a quicker pace than we’re gaining it because of our (declining) enrollment.”
Hayek said a 1 per cent salary raise across the board would cost the district $1.2 million a year. Annual step-and-column raises are already slated to cost an additional $1.5 million.
“We want to remain competitive for our staff and our employees,” he said. “That’s something that’s always a challenge for us moving forward.”
According to CVUSD’s communication coordinator, Heather Kawai, the district’s average annual teacher salary is $78,911, a figure that makes educators here some of the best paid in Ventura County. The average salary at Simi Valley Unified is $68,764; in Camarillo, it’s $69,569.
Salaries for certificated employees cost more than $88 million annually, accounting for 46 percent of CVUSD’s $189-million budget. Salaries for classified employees cost the district more than $24.5 million. Benefits eat up nearly $40 million.
Stevenson said teachers were hit hard during the economic downturn and learned to do more with less.
“We have weathered that dark period and now simply ask that employees working to educate our students are made a priority,” she said.
Teacher salaries froze during the economic downturn, and no collective raises were received from 2007 to 2013, though step-and-column raises continued. In 2014, represented teachers received a 2 percent raise after four years of taking pay cuts in the form of furlough days.
Newbury Park High School history teacher Steve Johnson said he opposed a request by district negotiators that employees contribute more to their health insurance.
Johnson, an NPHS graduate who’s taught for CVUSD for 33 years, said he did what was asked of him to reduce costs in recent years, including removing his spouse from his health insurance. Now that the financial crisis has abated, he said, teacher compensation should rebound accordingly.
“While we have wondered where we stood on the district’s priority list, we have watched the district budget generously on the creation of administrative positions and promotions and earmarked millions for moving CVHS and the maintenance and operations site,” he said. “We think we deserve better.”
Johnson said the offer of a small raise was on the table but it would be completely offset by the contribution to healthcare coverage.
“We want to remind you how difficult it is to find affordable housing so our staff members can live in the communities they serve,” he said.
Former UACT president Colleen Briner-Schmidt said teachers invest heavily in the district and it’s time for CVUSD to invest in them.
“This is my livelihood, it is my profession and it is my passion,” she said. “But I fear the loss of teachers to other districts and I fear the loss of teachers to other professions.”