Denair school district cuts nonunion wages

naustin@modbee.comJune 28, 2013 

— Denair Unified School District's nonunion workers will take a pay cut starting Monday, but top managers will lose far more than their administrative helpers will, trustees ruled.

At a meeting that lasted until 10 p.m. Thursday night, the board voted unanimously to cut 7.75 percent from nonunion district staff members and 11 percent from administrators with teaching credentials. Interim Superintendent Walt Hanline said the lower-level employees already were paid far below market rates, and upper management needed to lead by example.

Teachers are being asked to take an 11 percent salary cut from peak pre-recession pay that returns Monday as concessions in the old contract expire. The district is asking for a 7.75 percent cut from support staff, who typically make far less than teachers and gave up seniority raises throughout the recession, Hanline said.

Negotiations have reached an impasse with both groups, and a state mediator will be appointed soon, Hanline said Friday morning. That step begins a several-month countdown to the district potentially imposing salary cuts, a process that would have to begin anew if the district posted an opening negotiating proposal, as teachers have demanded.

"Hell will freeze over before that happens," Hanline said, saying the district would be taken over before a new negotiations timeline could run its course. He said the issue of salaries had been publicly announced and was "the core of what we're doing." The cuts sought have risen since that first announcement, he said. "Things have gotten worse."

Hanline said other parts of the contract were being discussed, but all were money-related. "I think there are ways to save money and reduce the impact on teachers. They need to stop this rhetoric. The bottom line is, when push comes to shove, it's 11.05 percent or let's get creative," he said.

His suggestions included eliminating a half-hour prep period for elementary teachers, potentially a 1.5 percent salary savings, and halting the long-standing but unwritten practice of letting teachers choose a cash payment over health benefits. Both would bring Denair more in line with industry norms, Hanline said.

If no agreement can be reached with its unions, Denair no longer has the option to lay off teachers in 2013-14. Support staff jobs, however, can be cut with 60 days' notice, making that the district's last-ditch option to avoid a state takeover.

As Denair struggles to find $750,000 to cut from its $10 million budget next year, several unexpected costs have cropped up — the "whoops" Hanline alluded to at Thursday's meeting. Friday, he explained that those included a $48,000 accounting misstep that paid an employee from the wrong fund and a $6,000 retirement incentive the board had granted to one individual.

An additional $200,000 in special-education costs are anticipated in 2013-14 for five high-needs Denair children now supported by Turlock Unified School District under an intradistrict transfer agreement. Hanline said the children's care will not change, but he expects Turlock will not agree to keep footing the bill.

In other action late Thursday, the board unanimously approved hiring Mary Jones as interim deputy superintendent and Hanline as interim superintendent through Jan. 31. In addition, Hanline will coach the board and the permanent superintendent through June 2015. Jones' contract is for up to $39,600, to include helping the district switch to common core standards. Hanline's total contract cap is $48,900.

The board also unanimously approved a 2013-14 budget that fails to cut expenses far enough to balance. Without changes, it must be rejected by Stanislaus County Office of Education overseers by Aug. 15, said interim Chief Budget Official Douglas Crancer.

Despite the challenges, Hanline said he will not allow the district to end up under a state administrator. "They come in and they cut and cut and cut," he said Friday. When he arrived to help the struggling Natomas Unified district in north Sacramento, he found its adviser "had basically gutted the programs. So they cut the money, but they lost 450 kids a year," he said.

Denair needs to increase its enrollment to make its finances work, he said.

Friday, Inglewood Unified became the ninth California school district since 1990 to request an emergency loan, triggering a state takeover. Seven of those districts have since returned to local governance, according to the California Department of Education. Vallejo City Unified and Oakland Unified still have state trustees, CDE records show.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339, on Twitter @NanAustin, www.modbee.com/education.

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