I was sitting in the audience at the La Cañada school board meeting on Aug. 2 and I could not believe what I heard! The school board members were given an opportunity to settle the on-going negotiations with the teacher's association and they boldly and unanimously chose to use the money to pay off the 20-year lease they have with the city for the sewer system at one of the elementary schools.
The school board has been in negotiations with the teachers for more than 18 months. During this time, they have said time and again that the reason they are not able to provide a cost of living increase to teacher's salary is because they simply do not have the money. First of all, the district received an approximate 3.5% increase to their overall budget for 2004-2005 and will be receiving an approximate 5.5% increase to their overall budget for 2005-2006. On the other hand, they have told the teachers that they can only afford to pass on 2% for 2004-2005 and 1.5% for 2005-2006. So they are getting over 9% from the state and they are only willing to give their teachers a mere 3.5%.
When the governor signed the new budget he did not require districts to cover the costs for mental health or contribute the state's portion to the retirement system for public employees. These two budget items were going to cost La Cañada over $400,000. At the school board meeting the board members discussed what they were going to do with this extra money and they unanimously decided to pay off the sewers early and not give any of the money to the teachers. The teachers are only asking for an additional 2% from what the district has already offered. The cost of this is approximately $230,000. Therefore, it would only cost a portion of the additional money that is now available.
If the teachers continuously do not receive a cost of living adjustment, our salaries will become uncompetitive and will not enable teachers to afford the basic amenities in life including gas, electricity and heat. We are not being unreasonable. We are standing up for our livelihoods. The teachers in La Cañada are very dedicated to the students and the community. We also have to keep in mind that over 25% of the teachers have been in the district for more than 25 years which means there is going to be a high level of turn over in the next five years. Therefore we will need to attract a large number of less experienced teachers in the coming years. How can we do that if we do not have competitive salaries?
Sewers are more important than teachers! I cannot believe that our school board is not taking a portion of the newly available funds to complete the contract negotiations. This would be an easy way to settle and move on. They have now admitted publicly that they have more than enough money. It truly shows the teachers that we are not valued by this school board!
The school board will be meeting on Thursday, August 11th at 5:30 p.m. to vote on how to use the funds. Please come and address your concerns to the board at this time.
in La Cañada