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Agreement Reached on 7% Raise for District’s Teachers, Employees

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Capping more than nine months of talks, school district officials and union leaders tentatively agreed Friday to a 7% raise for about 1,400 employees and teachers.

Although faculty members and nonteaching employees have received small increases to offset the rise in the cost of living, the district had not granted any substantial raises in at least five years because of past financial trouble, district officials said.

During the 1991-92 school year, union leaders agreed to cut off retirement benefits for more than 700 former and current district employees and teachers to keep the then near-bankrupt district afloat.

“This raise was something that we felt was critically important because of the commitment they gave us back then,” said Ventura Unified School District Supt. Joseph Spirito.

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Teachers and union leaders welcomed the tentative agreement, saying they expect it to be ratified in mid-September.

“I visited a few schools today and the morale is quite high,” said John Weiss, president of the Ventura Unified Education Assn., which represents Ventura teachers. “The teachers are just elated that the board has finally made teachers a high priority.”

Although the raise boosts a starting Ventura teacher’s salary from $23,900 to nearly $25,600, Weiss said the district still falls behind other districts.

Weiss, who is also a teacher at Anacapa Middle School, said a starting teacher’s salary in the Conejo Valley Unified School District is more than $28,000. According to Georgeann Brown, a Ventura district financial administrator, the average teacher’s salary in the Ventura district, including benefits, is $52,000.

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“We are not caught up to the other districts, but this was one giant step forward,” Weiss said.

The raises, which the district will give to its nearly 1,100 full-time employees and teachers and nearly 300 part-timers, will cost the district $3.3 million a year.

But Joseph Richards, assistant superintendent for business services, said some of the money will come from the state in the form of annual cost-of-living adjustments and for helping to put the district more on par with other school systems. He said some of the district’s general fund money also will be used to cover the increase.

Weiss said it was a financial hardship for teachers and employees to give up retirement benefits, including lifetime health care.

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“We have had to live with trying to give financial stability back to the district,” Weiss said.

Spirito said he was grateful for the sacrifice, adding that the district was now doing well financially, which enabled it to recently hire 37 extra teachers as part of statewide initiative to reduce class size.


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