LCUSD, Teachers at an Impasse on Pay Increase

Both sides say they want the same thing, but after 80 hours spanning nine negotiation sessions through last week, no deal.
La Cañada Unified School District teachers say they want to be paid salaries that are in line, long-term, with comparable districts such as San Marino and Manhattan Beach.
The district’s top administrator says she and the Governing Board share that goal, identifying the retention of high-quality teachers as the top priority in the Local Control Accountability Plan that is part of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula.
Last week, for the first time, the parties began to publicly divulge details of the talks that have gotten prickly.
“We have accepted minimum salary increases that barely keep up with the cost of living, with the consistent promise that more is on the horizon,” read an LCTA statement. “We do not understand why the promise made to us is not being upheld.”
“We don’t know what to do,” said David Sagal, president of the LCUSD Governing Board. “Our guys have been working very hard at the table, getting creative and finding whatever we can, but we’ve got to keep the lights on.”
On April 27, La Cañada Teachers Association President Many Redfern emailed media members to report that the district had “unilaterally moved the bargaining process from interest-based bargaining to adversarial, positions-based bargaining” the previous day.
By offering a written offer instead of making a proposal at the negotiations table, the district, the LCTA said, ended a nine-year tradition of interest-based bargaining. “At the close of bargaining on April 26 … neither party fully understood the numbers. Despite this fact, the district’s negotiating team delivered an ultimatum to LCTA to sign a tentative agreement or move to positions-based bargaining,” the union said in a statement.
“The IBB process was not moving forward,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette wrote in a subsequent release. “Significant work has been accomplished by the parties, but given the ground rules of IBB, nothing about that work could be shared with the community. As such, frustration and misinformation [were] prevalent.”
The district also released information about the salary adjustments it had offered, which it said would total about $1.5 million in increases to teachers’ pay.
LCUSD also offered details on its plans to improve the salaries of its longest-tenured teachers, including an increase to $97,851 from $90,720 for those with 25 years of service. In its suggested schedule, teachers will cross the $90,000 threshold in earnings in their 16th year instead of in their 25th.
The union countered that, according to this plan, in years nine through 15, teachers would see “only meager increases,” calling the district’s proposal “a shell game that moves money from teachers at the middle years of the salary schedule to fatten the top end.” That strategy, in the LCTA’s view, will not effectively retain top teaching talent.
Sinnette then wrote that the proposed new salary schedule puts the district within 2% of elite comparable districts. Previously, she stated, LCUSD was 5-7% behind those same districts. “These are significant gains and meet the common interest,” the superintendent wrote.
The district also proposed a 4.1% retroactive teacher salary increase for 2015-16, similar to what was granted retroactively the prior two years.
The LCTA countered that while “on the surface, [the 4.1%] offer may sound reasonable, or even attractive,” union members found flaws with the increase because it is “effectively off-schedule, since the current salary is abandoned next year. … The money will not carry forward.”
There hadn’t previously been a raise scheduled for 2015-16, but the district intended to offer one when bargaining took place, Sagal said.
“We never intended for 0%,” he said. “That was [teachers’] mantra and that made us very upset. We were just starting negotiations, we’d just started talking. It’s always gone that way.”
The district’s proposal also includes a restructure of the salary schedule for 2016-17, which it said would increase the amount the district paid in teacher salaries by approximately 4.3% (or $774,000 annually, and $2,322,000 over a three-year budget cycle.)
But the LCTA looked at it a different way. Averaging teachers’ salaries together, it contended that the promised increase was misleading. “The average member will see only a 2.68% salary increase in the proposed restructure. [State Teachers’ Retirement System] contributions will increase by 1% of salary next year, along with an approximate .5% increase in health-care premiums. So the average of 2.68% will only appear to be an approximate 1.18% in teachers’ paychecks,” the union wrote.
The district acknowledged that individuals will shoulder an increase in pension contributions, from 8% to 10.25% next year, but it noted that the district’s pension contributions also will increase — from 8.25% to 19.1% by the end of the decade, and to 16.28% by the end of the current budget cycle in 2019.
“LCUSD feels the current proposal directly addresses the common interests of increasing lifetime earnings, recruiting and retaining high-quality professionals, efficient targeting of top candidates, and creating a salary schedule that is consistent and deliberate,” Sinnette said in a statement.
The union disagrees, indicating it had no desire to sign on to the proposed deal before the governor’s May revise to school funding, which the LCTA proposed could free up more money for the state’s districts: “We can imagine why the district desires a speedy, if unjust, settlement now,” the union stated.
The LCTA also pointed to a just-agreed-upon teacher raise at Manhattan Beach USD, one of LCUSD’s identified “comparable” districts.
Manhattan Beach USD and its teachers’ union last week agreed on a retroactive salary increase of 4%, and a 3% raise beginning in January 2017, which appears to bring its top-earners nearer to $100,000 — to $97,642 annually with the raise, according to its previously posted salary schedule on the district’s website.
Sinnette maintained the LCUSD’s commitment to negotiating on behalf of the board in a way that offers “the best possible increase without making cuts to programs, positions and the educational goals identified in the LCAP.”
In an email, she said the increases in the proposal would come from Local Control Funding Formula general fund ongoing dollars, acknowledging that “in the out years, absent additional LCFF ongoing funding or increased local revenues, there will have to be strategic choices made and possible cuts to positions and/or programs.”
As of Monday, Sagal said no further bargaining sessions were scheduled, but he expected the sides to meet again soon.
The LCTA promised a counter offer in the coming days that it said “presents a fair and meaningful salary increase.”
Last week, Redfern also wrote about a staff meeting in February at which she said Sinnette promised that “any additional ongoing funds that come to this district will go to you [teachers].”
“We do not understand why these promises are not being upheld,” Redfern wrote. “We want to earn competitive salaries that value the hard work that we do each day to ensure that our students receive the best possible education.”
“At some point, we will reach a settlement,” Sinnette wrote. “If not, we will declare [an] impasse and mediation will ensue to assist the parties with the process. But when the dust settles, there’s still school. And ‘school’ is all about community and relationships. I ask that we move forward and let the work be done at the table and … take the discussion out of the classroom where it does not belong. Let’s talk face to face on issues and positions from a place of reason and respect, not sound bites and emotionality.”

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