Request for teacher raises ill-timed, ill-informed |
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Request for teacher raises ill-timed, ill-informed

A standing-room-only crowd packed last week's Pleasant Ridge Union School District Board of Trustees meeting, the majority there to voice opposition to proposed teacher layoffs it believes would negatively impact important programs for students.

Parents and students alike spoke passionately in support of their school district's teachers and its programs, as the board wrestled with ways to cut its budget in order to narrow a deficit reportedly pushing a million dollars. Due to decreasing enrollment and continued funding cuts at the state level, the district's board has faced myriad tough choices in recent years, including the closure of Pleasant Ridge School in 2010.

That night, apparent in their 3-2 vote, Pleasant Ridge trustees made another difficult decision in approving the layoff notices for eight teachers.

But less than a week later, the president of the union that represents those teachers and those who have not been notified of a layoff says Pleasant Ridge's district teachers are seeking a 5 percent raise in salaries, as well as a 5 percent increase in extra-duty stipends and an additional $200 per month toward medical benefits.

Where's the disconnect?

"Teachers haven't had a raise since 2008," Steve Smith, president of the Pleasant Ridge Teachers Association, said in Monday's edition of The Union.

Considering the state of the economy, one has to wonder how many of the district's parents — including those begging the board to allow the eight teachers to keep their jobs — have received a raise in recent years.

Not only does the district argue that it can't afford to offer raises, it's negotiators are proposing a 6 percent decrease to its certificated salary schedule and removal of its retirement incentive and its perfect-attendance stipend of $300. District officials say their proposal would cut in half an $800,000 deficit. Pleasant Ridge district teachers, on average, are reportedly among the higher paid in the state and certainly in western Nevada County. According to a Sacramento Bee ( database, the average salary for a Pleasant Ridge Union teacher is $72,073. Union Hill teachers report the second highest average in the area at $65,753 with Nevada Joint Union High School District third at $64,995. According to the database, the average salary for a teacher in the state of California is $68,531.

"The facts are that their proposal will increase the deficit by $500,000," said Deanne Opdahl, a negotiating representative of the board.

As mentioned, the fact that Pleasant Ridge is facing such a financial dilemma is not exactly new information. Board members, administrators and teachers alike rallied together around Measure K, a ballot tax initiative that proponents said would have provided $920,000 to the district annually for special programs. As they campaigned for the measure, the school community warned that if the measure did not pass, cuts would follow — and it did not pass.

Speaking for the teachers association, Smith says the fact that another ballot measure, Proposition 30, was approved at the state level, means the district will have the resources to fund the raises his union seeks. But Proposition 30, which will increase taxes on high-income earners of more than $250,000 for seven years and sales taxes for four years, was geared to stave off further cuts — such as layoffs — not to fund raises. Superintendent Britta Skavdahl said approximately 90 percent of the budget is already used for salaries and benefits and that no new money will be coming in this year from Proposition 30.

"For this current fiscal year, Proposition 30 only meant there wouldn't be massive ($600,000) cuts Jan. 1," Skavdahl said.

"We know that Prop. 30 passed. We know that the district is getting money," Smith said, but he also noted, "We don't know how much they're getting, and we don't know what the funding formula will look like."

Until the district has that information, which it will share with the public by the time it releases its annual budget, the teachers association should at least set aside its request for raises until it has been determined whether its members who were notified of layoffs last week will have jobs next fall.