Labor negotiations between the San Ramon Valley Unified School District and local teachers have hit a snag, with union negotiators from the San Ramon Valley Education Association declaring that bargaining talks have reached an impasse.
Negotiations are not over as the impasse opens the door for a moderator to come in and attempt to help both sides reach an agreement on a new memorandum of understanding.
The impasse arose out of feelings from SRVEA officials that district management has not been receptive to the priorities laid out by union negotiators, despite SRVUSD leaders having raised their initial pay raise offer by 1%.
“We are stuck. SRVEA needs to know that our interests are part of the negotiation process. SRVEA wants to negotiate, but when we hear the board's tolerance level won't allow for any discussion, we don't have any other option,” SRVEA president Ann Katzburg said during the school board's meeting last Tuesday in Danville.
In a newsletter sent to community members last week, district officials stated they increased their 2018-19 offer to a 3% ongoing salary increase, which would take effect retroactively to July 2018, after originally offering 2% in the fall.
“The district is disheartened by this declaration,” Superintendent Rick Schmitt wrote in a statement to community members. “As we have done successfully for so long, we want to and believe we should be able to reach a mutually acceptable and sustainable resolution through ongoing bargaining sessions through the collective bargaining process, without outside assistance from a state mediator.”
Schmitt added that the 1% increase equates to an additional $2.2 million in expenditures.
For their part, SRVEA representatives stated that salary increase are not the only concerns they have. Smaller class sizes, and increased nurses, librarians and support staff, among other assurances, are all key priorities in ensuring their students receive the best education possible.
“We provided a proposal to management that includes an increase in nurses … looking at ways of attracting quality educators and maintaining better class sizes. Not only for our teachers in the classrooms for our teachers in the classrooms but for our counselors, librarians and other staff as well,” SRVEA secretary Laura Finko said during an interview Friday. “Every proposal that we provide has been meet with them coming back and reiterating the status quo. No change in contract language.”
“When management ignores the breadth of our proposal and speaks only on salary, they are not focused on what's best for students. When management's communication about negotiations mentions students only to say we will have declining enrollment, yet spends four paragraphs on employee salaries, they do not make students a priority,” SRVEA reps added in a statement released on Facebook.
In a statement, SRVUSD said they are open to making “fiscally prudent” investments with the union, but certain budgetary restraints limit the district’s options, and maintaining a balanced budget may require local cuts to avoid deficit spending and dipping into reserves.
One ongoing financial challenge facing the district, according to Schmitt, is declining student enrollment. For every student enrolled in SRVUSD schools, the district receives $8,000; this school year the district saw a decline of nearly 400 students. That equates to a loss of $3.2 million in ongoing state funding, and student enrollment is expected to continue to drop dramatically in the future, according to district staff.
Schmitt said the district is also responsible for “‘turn the page’ expenses for health benefits, step-and-column salary increases, and pension contributions increase,” and that this year these costs increases will approach 4% of total Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) revenue.
These budgetary challenges are compounded by the SRVUSD’s status as the fourth-lowest-funded school district per students in California.
“The district has worked to address these budget challenges through expenditure reductions, including decreases in structural expenses by reducing administrative, certificated and classified staffing through attrition at both the school and district levels,” Schmitt said.
“When they misrepresent finances they do so in opposition to what's best for our students,” SRVEA officials responded. “Management is misunderstanding our priority -- simply said, it is our students.”
SRVEA officials said Schmitt’s comments largely ignore the priorities put forward by the union, which is an ongoing issue according to Katzburg.
Katzburg told DanvilleSanRamon.com that SRVEA members are unified in their support for the key goals of increasing support staff and decreasing class sizes -- citing an interorganizational survey of approximately 1,500 members that overwhelmingly supported the negotiators priorities.
Labor disputes have been erupting in school district throughout the state recently, with the Los Angeles Unified School District strike ending in alternative agreement last week, and more recently teachers are on the verge of striking in Oakland.
Schmitt said those are the potential conflicts that he hopes to avoid in the San Ramon Valley.
“The SRVUSD values the tremendous contributions of all its employees and is committed to investing in its workforce to the extent that it can responsibly afford to do so. In order to protect all that we have worked together to build in this district, we remain fully committed to maintaining fiscal solvency,” he said, adding that he believes the 3% proposal is a responsible investment.
Schmitt’s update on labor negotiations, the district budget, and state funding can be found on the district’s webpage.
SRVEA is hosting two community events to meet with residents and discuss these issues at length. SRVEA community town halls will be held Feb. 28, 7-8:30 p.m., at San Ramon Valley High School, 501 Danville Blvd. in Danville; and March 6, from 7-8:30 p.m. at Dougherty Valley High School, 10550 Albion Road, San Ramon. Interested residents are encouraged to RSVP online.