23 Aug 2014
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Capo Unified Watchdogs Question Salary Restoration for Teachers

School district watchdogs question whether the teachers' post-strike contract justifies the recent return of two school days to the calendar and salary bumps.

The board of trustees for the may have prematurely and two days to the students’ calendar this year, district watchdogs say.

At odds is the trigger for the so-called “restoration language” for the salaries that the school board agreed to at the end of the teachers strike in April, which is being interpreted differently. District officials and the teachers union say it was properly met; district watchdogs—including a former school board member—say it was not.

Watchdogs also allege that adding two days to the school calendar this year was reportedly done at a meeting where it was not on the agenda.

Former Capo Unified Trustee Mike Winsten, an attorney who was on the school board at the time the restoration language was penned, believes the restoration hasn’t actually been triggered, despite district officials announcement that it has.

“It’s a complete, intellectually dishonest agenda for the purpose of appeasing the union,” he said.

At the end of a three-day teachers strike in April, the Capistrano Unified Education Association agreed that teachers would take a 10.1 percent pay cut through the 2011-12 school year as long as they received assurances that non-paid furlough days and their pay would be restored when the district's financial picture improved.

According to the proposed-restoration language document, the trigger for the restoration of school days and salary would be met “following the adoption of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 state budgets.” The funding had to be actual increases beyond what the state was predicting in January 2010, not just promises.

Under the terms of the contract, as soon as the district collected $1.7 million in additional money, 60 percent would go to restoring first the school days, and then the teachers’ salaries would follow to the extent the newfound windfall would allow.

 The document was signed April 26, 2010, by attorney John Rajcic for the district and Sally White, first vice president of the teachers union.

Winsten said a ”common sense” interpretation of the restoration language document reads that both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 state budgets need to be adopted and the money needs to physically be in district coffers.

“My interpretation of the restoration language was that the District would have two years of peace and quiet with a stable teachers contract so we could balance the budget without giving up their wage and benefit concessions," he said.

Vicki Soderberg, president of the teachers union, said the use of the word “and” doesn’t tie the two fiscal years together. Instead, it creates two different points at which the district could restore the furlough days and salaries.

“It might have been easier to understand if the same sentence you are referring to was repeated twice with 2010-11 in one sentence and 2011-12 in the second,” she said.      

Anna Bryson, the only trustee to respond to a request for an interview, said she has no doubt the trigger was pulled properly.

“We have to fulfill our legal obligations to our teachers,” she said. “A contract is a good-faith document. You have to stand for your word.”

The state’s 2011-12 budget has not yet been passed. Although legislators are supposed to approve the annual budget by July 1, they often are late. The current year’s budget was passed Oct. 8, 2010—100 days after the July 1 deadline.

It’s not clear at this point exactly what the 2011-12 state budget will look like. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed to fill a $20-billion gap with spending cuts and the continuation of temporary tax hikes on sales, motor and income taxes. But only the voters can extend these tax hikes.

To prepare financially for the coming school year, Superintendent Joseph Farley has directed the staff to prepare two budgets: one in case the ballot measure passes and one if it doesn’t.

Combining the school district’s declining enrollment, project improvements needed for a  and possible first-time funding of in the absence of state funding, the district could be facing as much as a $24.8-million shortfall in a .

To address the challenging year ahead, the school board is scheduled at its meeting Tuesday to consider to 346 non-tenured teachers nurses, psychologists and counselors.

Furlough Days and Salaries Restored

In December, the district reinstated the two furlough days—one of which was Thursday—and earlier this month announced that teacher pay cuts would only be 6.49 percent, not 10.1 percent as negotiated during the strike. The move came about a month in early February, one month after Brown released his proposed 2011-12 budget.

In a report to the school board in the Jan. 11 agenda packet, staffers report that the board approved putting the two instructional days back on the calendar at its Dec. 13 meeting.  The district now contends there's a mistake in that report. 

No such item was on the Dec. 13 board agenda. When the board emerged from a three-hour closed session, President Jack Brick announced no action was taken, according to the minutes. The only closed-session agenda item was for a performance review of Farley.

At the Jan. 11 board meeting, Farley told the board: “You’ve already reinstated the days. They will be part of the calendar. It’s finished.”

Farley added that the board had received a legal analysis regarding the restoration of the two days “verbally.” Farley told Patch that he consulted three lawyers, including Rajcic, whose name appears on the restoration language document.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, school board members Ellen Addonizio and Sue Palazzo voted against adding the two days to the school calendar.

Capo Unified spokesman Marcus Walton said there was an error in the report. The action the board took was in approving the post-strike contract, which included the restoration language, back in April. That is what action Farley was referring to, Walton said.

“No vote was taken on that [at the Dec. 13 meeting] because no vote would be needed to be taken at that time.”

Walton said despite quibbles with the restoration language and its phrasing, the agreement’s intent is clear.

“If the language is ambiguous, the intent was not ambiguous,” Walton said.

Farley agrees. “You can take any page of writing and analyze it to death,” he said. The intent was clearly for the two years to be taken separately, not together.

“I question if the trigger’s been made. I question if the money is really there,” said Jennifer Beall, a longtime board critic who helped get the so-called reform candidates elected in 2006 and 2008. “Who would ever rely on an IOU from the state?”

Beall has not been front and center in school district politics recently as she has in the past. But she says she’s still monitoring board actions.

“I’ve always watched the dollars. I wished other parents would. That’s where you find the truth.”

Farley said the district has already been receiving the extra money each month. The October budget for the current year increased the district’s per-student allocation from $4,939 to $5,208, according to district documents.

On Dec. 14, the day before the district announced it would be adding two additional days to its academic calendar, Farley received a letter from the Orange County Department of Education cautioning him that midyear cuts could rescind the district’s extra 2010-11 dollars.

“The actual base revenue limit that the districts receive for the current year will not be finalized until June 2011,” wrote Wendy Benkert, assistant superintendent of business services for the county Department of Education.

“Given that the state is projecting a multibillion-dollar deficit over the next 18 months, there is a potential for further reductions to school district revenue limits in 2010-11, and the district needs to be prepared for an additional loss in revenues,” Benkert wrote.

Walton said that Brown’s Jan. 10 budget did not include any current-year cuts, and the district’s been reassured by state officials that 2010-11 money is safe.

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