Teachers to vote on contract in troubled Denair district

naustin@modbee.comJanuary 23, 2014 

— Teachers will cast their votes by Tuesday on a three-year contract with a 7 percent retroactive pay cut for the current school year, in line with a fact-finder’s recommended solution to the district’s dire financial straits.

“The fact-finder’s report made public Thursday found that Denair Unified School District is responsible for a ‘significant part’ of its financial problems, along with state budget cuts, and urged the administration to use all available funding to restore compensation to the teachers,” said a statement released by the Denair Unified Teachers Association.

“Recognizing the district’s weak financial condition, teachers over the past few years agreed to six furlough days and related pay cuts to help keep the district afloat. Denair teachers have long pointed out that the district’s financial hardship was largely caused by poor administrative decisions to take out expensive construction loans with limited means to pay them back; maintaining high levels of staffing while its student population shrank; and supporting charter schools it cannot afford,” the statement said.

Incoming Superintendent Aaron Rosander, in Denair for a welcome reception Thursday, said of his new district, “There’s been a lot of wear and tear” in the past year. Interim Superintendent Walt Hanline, Rosander said, “made the right moves through this. It’s hard, and there’s tension getting to the point to make choices.”

Rosander told parents and staff the district would weather the crisis. “I’m not here to wave a magic wand or lay down an edict. We’ll come through this together.”

The fact-finder’s report was one of the final stages of bargaining that stalled nearly a year ago as teachers disputed district financial figures and its demand for an 11 percent salary cut. See the report at www.modbee.com.

While agreeing the district needs to slash labor costs to regain solvency, the report recommends a three-year solution – including avoiding “egregious and draconian cuts” – that would let employees and administrators repair their relationship and Denair’s balance sheet.

“The report is replete with conclusions that our fiscal issues were caused solely by poor management decisions, not certificated salaries. This report backs up everything I have been saying since this crisis started,” said DUTA President Barry Cole.

Denair’s financial troubles came as enrollment and state funding fell during the recession, but the district failed to cut staff to match. Hanline said he found classrooms with nine or 10 students, when most districts plan for 24 to 30 students per class.

The district ran out of reserves in 2012-13, needing a $1.3 million loan from the Stanislaus County Office of Education to make payroll through spring and summer. It was on track to overspend by $685,000 this year without a deal with teachers.

That would have triggered a state takeover of the district, ending local autonomy for a projected 20 years. The process for the state takeover is proceeding alongside the negotiations. County office Deputy Superintendent Don Gatti said he will halt the process once the contract is approved and the district’s financial plan is solid.

Teachers still must vote to accept the contract, and the board must approve it, which is expected to happen at a Jan. 30 meeting.

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