At left: Ramona TA members at a school board meeting
Teachers negotiating in Ramona Unified School District, San Diego County, are outraged, and for good reason.
School officials continue to seek the equivalent of 27 percent in combined, one-time salary cuts over three years for educators, or massive health benefit cuts — and a raft of other unnecessary concessions. The district has five times more in budget reserves than recommended by the state.
Salary schedules would be restored after three years to prior levels, after the financial carnage was done.
Other district proposals to slash health benefits and due process rights for educators, along with increasing class sizes, are mobilizing the community. Educators and parents packed a Jan. 17 school board meeting, where Ramona Teachers Association (RTA) President Donna Braye-Romero warned of the community consequences from these “egregiously unfair” cuts.
“Your crippling cuts could decimate Ramona’s teaching staff — many of whom could absolutely not withstand the financial impact of the burden you would place on them,” she said. “Ramona’s children deserve the brightest and best to teach them. Why would those teachers be attracted to teach in a district for miserly wages and benefits, and in a climate where they are treated like the enemy?”
Flanked by teachers with protest signs in the audience, Braye-Romero told the school board members the “seriousness of the situation” warrants both sides trying to find a solution in the 5,900-student district, but the 260-member RTA won’t back down from opposing the district’s onerous “last, best and final” contract proposals.
“Let me be clear. We find the district’s proposals to be absolutely unacceptable.”
And insulting, she added, because the harsh cuts appear to be rooted in poor financing mistakes made by the district several years ago concerning the funding of two new school sites. (Ramona voters have defeated five consecutive school bonds in recent years, the last one in November.)
“Even though Ramona teachers bear no responsibility for the unwise expenditure for two new school sites several years ago, your proposals seek to rectify that fiscal mistake by breaking the backs of teachers financially — putting the entire burden on them. RTA has offered reasonable cuts in order to share the sacrifice, but how can it be fair to expect teachers to carry the entire load?”
The district even rejected the teachers’ offer to take seven unpaid furlough days this year to help make ends meet.
Widening her plea for help, Braye-Romero also appealed to the nearly 800 delegates at CTA’s State Council of Education during their Jan. 26-27 meeting in Los Angeles. She urged them to write letters to the Ramona district and Superintendent Robert Graeff demanding fairness at the bargaining table.
While Graeff wants teacher pay gutted, his own salary has risen 16 percent since 2009, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. A new raise means his annual salary will rise to $200,591 as of July 1, Braye-Romero says.
More teacher protests were brewing in February. Both sides will make their cases to a state-appointed fact-finder on Feb. 27 who can recommend a non-binding resolution to the showdown.
The Ramona district’s final proposals are extreme enough to make any California teacher cringe:
- One-time salary cuts of 8 percent this school year, 9.5 percent next year and 9.5 percent in 2014-15. This would be equivalent to having about 50 furlough days.
- Teachers were given the choice of having salaries slashed, or health benefits cut by equivalent amounts. For benefits, Ramona is clearly trying to pit teachers with families against educators with no dependents. The discrepancy in new teacher out-of-pocket payments could vary between almost $20,000 over three years for family coverage to less than $3,000 over three years for individual coverage.
- The district’s due process rights proposals are “mean-spirited and punitive,” teachers contend. The district wants to be able to fire an educator based on unsubstantiated complaints and be able to place a teacher on unpaid leave while investigations based on rumors or innuendo proceeded.
- Class sizes would soar from the current K-12 classroom average of 30 students to 35. Rooms packed with 40 students are already seen.
Braye-Romero concluded her forceful January school board meeting remarks with optimism.
“Instead of working against teachers, we urge you to work with us,” she said. “Let’s work collaboratively to agree on a contract that includes shared sacrifice in the short term. And then let’s be a team that includes the entire Ramona education community to create the components of a new bond issue that could unite the community around fixing an unfortunate past error and then move forward to a brighter future for our students and our town.”