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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 20th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 37 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 37

Orcutt Union School District contract negotiations frustrate teachers

BY HENRY HOUSTON

Members of the Orcutt Educators Association—the collective union that represents the school district’s faculty—continue to wear black at school board meetings to remind officials that educators are unhappy with their compensation package.

So far in the negotiation process, the district has proposed a total 7 percent increase. This figure includes a 2.5 percent on-schedule boost (a permanent salary increase), a .5 percent boost to cover the additional health-care fees employees have been paying out of pocket since Oct. 1, and a 4 percent off-schedule boost (a one-time pay increase).

“We offered OEA a great deal,” Superintendent Bob Bush said. “It’s better than what many of the neighboring districts have offered their employees.”

The union countered the district’s proposal with a 5 percent increase on schedule, a .5 percent boost to cover the health-care increase, and another .5 percent to cover miscellaneous items, such as stipends.

Union president Monique Segura said there’s more frustration over the board’s refusal to allow a memorandum of understanding, which in the past has allowed the two organizations to work out a temporary pay increase until negotiations are complete.

This time, however, the school board doesn’t want to do that.

“They want a complete deal,” Segura said on why the board would not allow it.

Because of this, employees have had to pay for the .5 percent increase out of their paychecks, which has exacerbated their already-stretched thin finances, Segura said.

The hope is that the contract will quell frustrations that have surfaced, but Segura called the lack of a pay increase disrespectful.

“Educators have more on our plate. We’re expected to serve on many committees by the board, who call them ‘professional duties,’” she said. “There are a multitude of duties that don’t have stipends: robotics team, organizing the talent show, math bowl, and the list just goes on.”

Segura added that because there hasn’t been a raise in more than eight years, teachers’ salaries don’t reflect the area’s growing cost of living.

“Several teachers have more than just one job. They might work on weekends at wineries, or teach at Hancock. And there’s a large percentage who work summer jobs,” she said.

The issue is especially upsetting, Segura said, because educators believe there is enough money in the reserve to pay for the raises.

But Bush said those reserves are needed for other aspects of maintaining the district, such as preventing furloughs and offsetting cuts in state funding as the district deals with declining student enrollment. And there are always maintenance issues to keep up with.

“As a district, we’ve set money aside to deal with mid-year cuts. We’ve stayed solvent and haven’t laid off employees in six years. They’ve kept their jobs although there has been no salary adjustment,” Bush said. “You know, we’ve also had a bus break down recently, so we have to buy a new one. Running a school is like a business.”

Operating the district like a business would be detrimental to the students, Segura said, because it could affect the recruitment of new teachers and the performances of those teachers already employed.

But all of this compensation drama could come to an end soon: Bush told the Sun he’s optimistic about negotiations after a meeting with the union on Nov. 15.

Segura is excited about this development as well.

“The ball is in their court,” she said. “So that’s great news for us.”

Whatever deal is reached by the district and  the teachers’ union will also apply to the two other contracts—classified and management—who decided to take the district’s seven percent increase.

Added Bush, “We don’t treat anyone different. No one is better.”