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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 10th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 32

Santa Maria high school district and Faculty Association declare impasse

By Kasey Bubnash

After more than a year of negotiations, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District and its Faculty Association declared an official impasse on Oct. 3. 

The main sticking points? Salaries, of course, and the district's voluntary transfer program. 

District officials said in a press release that while the district offered faculty members a 2 percent raise for the 2018-19 school year–including increases to the salary schedule and health benefits–Faculty Association members held out in hopes of getting a 3.75 percent increase. 

"The district is financially sound," Faculty Association President Matt Provost told the Sun. "We're just asking for our fair share."

Provost said the Faculty Association made its request based on what the district received from recent changes in state cost of living adjustments. The district gets about $2.44 million from the state based on cost of living adjustments, according to a district press release, money that is used to offset spikes in fuel, school supplies, utilities, and pension costs.

This school year, Provost said Santa Maria's high school district is getting about 3.7 percent more in state funding because of increased cost of living adjustments. That, plus the district's growing student enrollment and expanded state funding in other areas, makes for a financially stable school district, Provost said. 

Throughout the last two years, district officials have repeatedly blamed rising pension costs for lower than usual salary increases.

The district has about 400 teachers and 370 classified employees, most of whom are enrolled in retirement plans through the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) or the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS). 

A graph shows Santa Maria Joint Union High School District’s projected cost of retirement pensions until 2020. “There is a real cost that we can’t avoid,” Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Kevin Platt told the Sun in a previous interview.

Both programs are in trouble, and employers across the state, including Santa Maria's high school district, are being forced to contribute more to pay off existing retiree benefits. By the 2019-20 school year, the district's CalSTRS and CalPERS costs will have increased by more than $4.5 million since 2015-16, according to a district press release.

Officials also noted that Santa Maria Joint Union High School District teachers are already the highest paid in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. 

Still, Provost said the district is in good shape financially, even with the dramatically changing pension costs.

"They have the money to give us," Provost said, "they're just choosing not to."

The groups also failed to agree on contractual language regarding the district's voluntary transfer program, which Provost said allows teachers to voluntarily jump to schools with open positions. Senior-most teachers are chosen over others who apply for the positions, and Provost said it allows teachers some much-needed freedom to move around, while maintaining job and salary security. 

It's one of the few liberties teachers are allowed without administrative oversight, and Provost said the district's contract this year would have eliminated the program entirely. 

District Public Information Officer Kenny Klein said the current contract allows teachers to transfer to any open positions regardless of their past experience or qualifications. That leaves principals and department chairs without any say in which teachers join their school's staff. 

"To be clear, we are not saying that teachers cannot transfer, we believe teachers who are interested in transferring should be interviewed and selected," Klein wrote in a statement to the Sun. "Department chairs and principals should have the ability to select their teams, and all teachers, regardless of seniority, should have the same opportunity to compete for a position.'' 

Klein said negotiations between the district and Faculty Association will continue through a mediator, although no dates have been set.

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