Teachers at Pleasant Ridge seek pay raise | TheUnion.com
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Teachers at Pleasant Ridge seek pay raise

In the midst of a budget situation that led Pleasant Ridge School District to lay off eight teachers last week, the district’s teachers union is negotiating for pay raises and an increase to its health benefits.

District officials say their proposal would cut in half an $800,000 deficit by proposing a 6 percent decrease to its certificated salary schedule, a removal of a retirement incentive and a perfect attendance stipend of $300. On the opposite side of the table, the president of the Pleasant Ridge Teachers Association says his union seeks a 5 percent increase in salaries, as well as a 5 percent increase in extra-duty stipends and an additional $200 per month toward medical benefits.

“The facts are that their proposal will increase the deficit by $500,000; and we have met three different times, two informal and one formal, and so far no movement one way or the other. … We’re hoping we can meet in the middle because we are here for the students,” said Deanne Opdahl, Pleasant Ridge board member and negotiating representative of the board.



“We know that Prop. 30 passed, we know that the district is getting money, and we don’t know how much they’re getting and we don’t know what the funding formula will look like,” said Steve Smith, president of the Pleasant Ridge Teachers Association. “Teachers haven’t had a raise since 2008.”

According to a statistical database produced by the Sacramento Bee (available at SacBee.com), the average teacher salary of Pleasant Ridge School District teachers is $72,073. That figure is the highest among western Nevada County school districts, with Union Hill teachers reporting the second-highest average at $65,753 and 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.




“Clearly we are still the highest in the county,” district Superintendent Britta Skavdahl said. “I would say a couple years ago, the Sacramento Bee had Pleasant Ridge ranked as the second highest in Northern California.”

On March 12, the district’s board of trustees approved the layoffs of eight employees by a 3-2 vote, as a standing-room only crowd voiced opposition, in particular to cutting a teaching position with the district’s music program.

“The district has quite a substantial reserve that (it) has maintained over 20 percent,” Smith said. “They can choose to use them, but they say they need them for uncertain times. But at what point do you say you have enough in reserve? Why are they hanging onto it when it’s tax dollars that should be spent on kids, and like one of our teachers presented (during the March 12 board meeting), every percent they have in reserve is a teaching position.”

The reserves are actually at about 13 percent, said Nancy August, business manager for Pleasant Ridge, adding the funds are used for emergency situations.

“For times like this when we’re hit with huge deficits and we don’t have enough time to cut, we have the reserves, which also help with deferrals,” August said. “When the recession hit, we were hit with a seven percent deficit mid-year that nobody saw coming, so you have reserves to get through that, and you can’t fire a certificated (employee) because you’re way past the March 15 deadline.”

As far as the revenue from Proposition 30, August said there are many unknowns, but some of the money will be used for the increase to cost of living adjustment and a large portion will go toward deferred money the state has owed from previous years.

“It’s like you have a checkbook budget, and you want to travel someday. It’s money you can touch, but you want to save it for a specific reason,” August said, noting that some of the specific projects are for deferred maintenance, yearbook, woodshop and donation accounts. “I don’t think the parents club would like it if we used donated funds for salaries.”

Skavdahl said that 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 Prop 30.

“For this current fiscal year, Proposition 30 only meant there wouldn’t be massive ($600,000) cuts January 1,” Skavdahl said.

Last fall, proponents of Measure K, which included district officials and teachers alike, sought a special tax increase to narrow the district’s budget deficit through a proposed levy of $92 per year per parcel over a five-year period. The measure, which supporters said would have directed $920,000 per year into school enrichment programs, was defeated in November with 62 percent of the vote going against to 38 percent in favor. It required two-thirds of the vote in order to pass.

Opdahl said the district has done its best to rein in the deficit and was one of three board members voting in favor of the layoff notices Tuesday.

“I’ve been on all sides, I’m a teacher also and on the negotiating team. We have not received a pay increase and neither has anybody else and unfortunately it is what it is and we have a deficit we have to chip away at,” said Opdahl, who works as speech and language pathologist with the Loomis Union School District. “I’m in charge of negotiations and our job is to have a sound fiscal budget.”

“We picked from the low fruit,” Opdahl said. “There’s lots of places the district has cut.”

Ophahl also maintained that the district has done all it can in terms of reasonable administrative reductions.

According to the SacBee.com data, Skavdahl’s salary of $111,150 is below the $115,008 Nevada County average and the average salary of a state superintendent at $167,000.

Skavdahl said a full-time director of maintenance position has been cut, and the responsibility now falls in her purview. August, the business manager, also controls the preschool finances. And Carol Fling, payroll technician, also oversees the after-school recreation program, “which actually pays 40 percent of Carol’s salary, which relieves it from the general fund,” Skavdahl said, noting the 2010 closure of Pleasant Ridge School removed a position for a principal, also cutting administrative costs.

“We’ve decreased 30 percent in administrative staff,” Skavdahl said.

Smith contends a lack of cost of living increase and skyrocketing health-care costs have added to the frustration of the district’s proposed cuts.

“Health care has exploded exponentially,” Smith said. “I have a high-deductible health savings account, so out of my pocket every year I pay $5,000 for whatever appointments and every month I pay an out-of-pocket cost as well. So that is what we are trying to whittle down,” he said, adding that teachers dedicate nearly 10 percent of their pay to health coverage. “We have no numbers as to what the costs will be next year, but the cost has generally run more than 10 percent per year as an increase since 2008.”

As for the future of the negotiations, the teachers and district will have to use their common interests to agree, said Shar Johns, Cottage Hill principal and negotiating representative.

“They’ve given their proposal and we’ve given ours. We’re far apart,” Johns said. “We all want the same thing for our students, to preserve as many jobs and to keep our district fiscally solvent, so those are all goals I think we share, so I’m hopeful we’ll come together.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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