Divided Modesto City Schools board gives raises to teachers, staff

naustin@modbee.comJune 3, 2014 

Modesto City Schools board members, worried about long-term finances and eager to improve programs before salaries, gave split votes on employee contracts. All three deals passed, however, giving 3 percent raises for 2014-15 to district teachers, support staff and managers.

The most contentious was the most expensive, pulling an additional $10 million from the general fund over the contract it replaces to pay teachers. After discussion and the failure of a motion to delay the vote, the pact with the Modesto Teachers Association passed Monday night on a 5-2 vote.

Board President Cindy Marks and Vice President Amy Neumann cast the dissenting votes.

“I was here when our boardroom was filled with crying parents, students and staff as we had to make cuts due to unsustainable increases in salaries and benefits made in good times. We must not ignore the lessons of the recent past,” Marks said.

Neumann said the primary reason she voted against the contract was that she wanted more financial information. “I like many things in the agreement, particularly the evaluation proposal and the reinstatement of the stipends,” she said by email Tuesday.

The raises come at a time when the district is getting more money under the new state funding formula but is also under added pressure to fund things the community has asked for. A major hike in contributions to teacher pensions will be required to shore up the California State Teachers Retirement System, digging further into the general fund.

“I am concerned about the district’s ability to afford the proposed raises in salary, along with the public expectations for how we will use increased (community-directed funding), the huge cost of effectively implementing Common Core, and the uncertainty of our obligations to fully fund the CalSTRS deficit. For these reasons, I voted against the contract,” Neumann wrote.

The three-year MTA deal adds 1.5 percent to base salary, gives a one-time 1 percent bonus and about 0.5 percent in pay for additional time. It restores some stipends and boosts health care contributions.

One-year contracts for support staff, represented by the California School Employees Association, and district managers added 2 percent in ongoing salary boosts and 1 percent in one-time pay. Those additions will cost the district $2.5 million and $1 million, respectively.

All the raises come on top of salary and school days returned to prerecession highs for 2013-14, noted Marks, who was the lone dissenter against the CSEA and managers contracts.

“While I believe our staff is long overdue for a raise, overcommitting $13.5 million this year in salaries and benefits will have dire effects in the long-term health of the district,” said Marks, noting that the district added 6 percent to salaries this year, incurring $10 million in ongoing costs.

“I want to see the plans for restoring programs such as summer school, music, arts, college and career readiness, and the return to a full 180-day school year continue beyond the next three years,” she said by email Tuesday. “I don’t see that happening with our obligations to the CalSTRS pensions going from 8 percent to 19 percent (increasing to $14 million a year in seven years) and Proposition 30 funding ($28 million this year) disappearing in 2017.”

But other board members said they stand behind the district’s deal makers and believe in better compensation for school employees.

“I support the negotiation process and approved the agreements. I recognize and appreciate all of our employees and value the role they play in educating our students,” Sue Zwahlen said.

Rubén Villalobos said he fully supported the contracts, including higher salaries and federally mandated increases to health insurance.

“Over the last five years, public education funding has been eviscerated by Sacramento,” Villalobos said Tuesday. “All the while, our faculty and staff have made do with less. Now that the state is making steps toward full funding for education, we must compensate our loyal employees who have stood by their students during the tough budget times. To do otherwise would be unethical.”

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

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