District, union reach agreement

COSTA MESA — The Newport-Mesa Unified school board on Tuesday night approved a one-year contract with the teachers union but also outlined issues with the state budget expected to impact the district.

The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers Local 1794 reached an agreement with district in September and overwhelmingly ratified a one-year contract in which teachers would see no pay raises but no salary reductions.

Both Kimberly Claytor, the president of the union, and the district's negotiator, John Caldecott, director of human resources, were commended by the seven-member school board and Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard for their hard work and long hours of negotiations.

Hubbard, in recounting how the tentative pact played out in September, said that he couldn't sleep one particular night. He recalled that he got up to check his e-mail and he noticed he received a positive update on the contract negotiations from Caldecott as late as midnight.

Then another one came in at 3:30 in the morning, then another at 6:30 a.m. — with both teams pulling "an all-nighter."

"I'm proud of the perseverance and the willingness to come together at the table," Hubbard said.

Caldecott said he endured the "full range of emotions," from joy to exhaustion.

Teachers, however, will see a 10-percent increase in their compensation and benefits plan, according to the contract. The hike in monthly premiums is the direct result of an increase in the insurance company premiums.

But the district is not out of the financial woods.

While 74 teachers have been hired back so far from the 124 initially laid off over the summer to plug a $13.5-million hole in the Newport Mesa Unified School District's 2010-11 budget, it now looks like special education could take a $2-million hit due to the state budget crisis, district administrators said.

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deleted $133 million from the budget's County Mental Health Services, "that singular act" left counties across California in a sort of "limbo," Paul Reed, chief business official for the district, said in an e-mail.

Although the mental health services are "not educational in nature," Reed wrote, there are individual education plans for students.

All school districts are required under federal law to meet the needs of special education students, which

means districts across the state are "arguably mandated," Reed wrote, "to pay and provide for the services themselves."

At Newport-Mesa, that cost could run upward of $2 million a year, Reed said.

"That expense was not in our budget … if we are forced to pay for those services, and that's a big 'if,'" Reed wrote, "… then the money will have to come from our existing reserves in the current year."

Reed said one option the district has is to join a coalition of school districts across the state and take the matter to court, but as of yet no such coalition has been formed.

Reed said he hoped that the state Legislature would solve the problem before it reaches the point of legal redress.

"I assure you we are solvent and moving forward," he said of the district's overall financial position.

During Reed's report at Tuesday night's school board meeting, Reed said the governor's budget had "no connection to reality" because it was based on "a bunch of silly assumptions."

Proposition 98 was suspended in the state budget deal as well, which means now the state doesn't have to provide California schools with an additional $4.3 billion under the proposition's terms, which are part of the state Constitution, Reed wrote.

He wrote that state is assuming the federal government will provide the state about $5.3 billion — an optimistic assumption, Reed wrote. So far, only $1 billion has been received.

In other action, the school board, without comment, voted to oppose Proposition 19, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana in California. Administrators had previously raised concerns about making it easier for bus drivers and other district employees to obtain the drug.

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