Merced teachers, support workers push for raises

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comOctober 10, 2013 

— Merced Union High School District employees pushed trustees for raises Wednesday night, but may have to wait several months before their requests are granted.

The five-member board, meeting at El Capitan High School, had no comment as union representatives made their case for salary hikes. About 150 teachers and classified employees packed the El Capitan library during the monthly business meeting.

It has been at least six years since the 900 full-time workers had a raise.

Until it is known what kind of funding the district will receive from the state from its new Local Control Funding Formula and what restrictions apply, the board appears reluctant to grant raises.

Superintendent Scott Scambray said the district is in the midst of negotiations with the district teachers association and California School Employees Association Chapter 252 and hopes that a resolution is possible in the next couple months.

The district may not know until January how much money is available and what strings are attached to spending it, Scambray said.

Trustee Dave Honey said Thursday that district employees deserve a raise and he would like to give them one. But first the district needs to cut its expenses so it can give raises.

“We need to look at how to get lean and mean,” Honey said. “Once we spend it (possible extra money from the state) it puts us back in the hole again. We can’t keep going into debt.”

Trustee Dora Crane said it was good to see so many teachers and classified employees at the board meeting. She said all stakeholders need to work together in planning for LCFF funding and the requisite action plans.

“As we go through negotiations, I have high hopes we will able to give some sort of compensation to our employees,” Crane said. “I certainly understand the hardships they have been through in the last year.”

Leonard Kahn, assistant superintendent for business services, said the board is in the midst of negotiations and has to keep things confidential. The district has 925 full-time equivalent positions, some of them part-time, and cuts 1,050 to 1,150 paychecks a month, some of them to substitute teachers who aren’t employees.

Board President Ida Johnson said right now the board can’t commit to salary increases.

“I want to give them raises,” Johnson said. “Everything’s up in the air. They deserve a raise; it’s not that we don’t want to.”

Trustee William Snyder III said he knows CSEA employees have made sacrifices and teachers have worked hard.

“It’s not a lack of desire by anybody on the board,” Snyder said. “We don’t know what restraints will be put on the money and we have to be careful. We have called Sacramento but don’t have an answer.”

William Wohltman, CSEA chapter president, said classified employees have stood by patiently through the years while they heard there was no money in the budget and times were tough.

“Hopefully the board has not forgotten the concessions the CSEA chapter made,” Wohltman said, “when the board’s back was against the wall during the busing crisis. Still we wait for fair and equitable salary and insurance increases. Hopefully I will not need to stand before you again to repeat the subject. The people you shepherd have stood by patiently and now are suffering for their loyalty.”

Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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