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Negotiation angst at Fallbrook Union Elementary School District

 

Last updated 2/20/2014 at Noon

Members of the Fallbrook Elementary Teachers Association (FETA) hold an organizational meeting on Monday, Feb. 10, in the Village Square in downtown Fallbrook.

The Fallbrook Elementary Teachers Association (FETA) members have had an ongoing dialogue with the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD), but are concerned about the accuracy and clarity of certain issues that have been presented by both sides.

On Jan. 19, FETA and FUESD negotiators met to begin discussions, and the district has had FETA’s contractual and economical proposals since September, said Ken Ostroske, FETA bargaining chair.

“However, we were given a presentation on how the district saw its budget. There was really no negotiating,” said Ostroske. “We were instead asked what proposals we would like to take off the table.

Then, the attorney cancelled the meeting that was set for the end of February and changed it to March 5, because they said they needed time to put their proposal together. We would like to know what the district has been doing all this time.”

According to Dennis Bixler, assistant superintendent of business for FUESD, the district did not have a delay in negotiations.

“In fact, FETA and the district set the schedule and the agenda for each session together,” stated Bixler. “FETA voiced no objection or concern when we agreed to reschedule this one session. If they had done so, we would have kept the date. This is not an issue.”

Bixler also stated the district and FETA have been meeting continuously since the beginning of the school year, and have made solid progress on important issues for students and employees.

“The Jan. 29 session was our very first session devoted to economics and we presented a lot of economic data and other information to FETA,” said Bixler. “As agreed, the district will be sharing its economic proposal at the next session and we believe it is positive, sustainable and responsible.”

“The association isn’t out to point fingers at the district,” said Ostroske. “We have had an ongoing dialogue between the association and the district, however, we have noticed there was an issue of accuracy in what the district was talking about. We had bargained over a number of sessions, and after reading the district’s negotiation updates, we saw a number of inaccuracies, and a number of proposals that had incomplete issues.”

According to Ostroske, a proposal that raised concerns was school class sizes and funding per student. Currently, classes in kindergarten to third grade have a ratio of 24 students to one teacher, with plans to implement reductions until class sizes are 20 to 21 students per teacher.

“This will be fully implemented over a period of years,” said Ostroske. “For each year the district makes growth toward the set target, it receives funds called grade span adjustment money. Simply by adhering, the district receives $729 per average daily attendance (ADA) of each student.”

According to Ostroske, this set growth target for the district is 10.8 percent of 24 students to one teacher. Next year, the set growth is 28 percent of 24 students per teacher.

“The district has said it is at risk of losing $219,000,” explained Ostroske. “However, if they make the two years’ growth toward the adjustment, they don’t lose the money.”

Ostroske explained that the necessary teachers, support staff and facilities for the adjustment would cost approximately $2 million, but that these funds were not included in the proposals.

The district had been given a proposal to have student-to-teacher ratios decreased to 24 to one; however with the governor’s grade span adjustment money, FETA removed the proposal from the table, he said.

“The issue would take care of itself, and it would be foolish to not take advantage of those funds,” said Ostroske. “According to the California Department of Education, Fallbrook has the third highest class size in San Diego’s elementary school district system. We need to get sizes down. Every minute you get with a student is crucial, and the time needs to be manageable.”

Bixler stated the district’s class sizes are comparable to similar districts in San Diego County.

“It is important to note that several of our comparable districts saw increases in class sizes coupled with significant reductions in salaries and benefits during the last several years,” he said. “Our district has increased compensation and salaries, and there have been no layoffs and no furlough days as there have been in the majority of districts across the state.”

In addition, FETA wanted the district to address teachers’ workloads and preparation time.

“Our association asked teachers what their workload was, and asked them to start charting how many hours spent outside of contract hours weekly, whether it was nights, weekends, holidays or planning done at home,” said Ostroske. “The results are staggering. Some teachers come in at 6 a.m., and leave at 5 p.m. It’s not that teachers don’t expect to work hard; in fact, we work harder, longer, more cohesively, and more creatively to improve instruction on all academic areas.”

FETA asked the district to agree to guaranteed prep time, and while there have been steps made toward a conceptual agreement, nothing has been set in stone. The concept was to hire more PE teachers to take students out, a grade level at a time.

“This would allow teachers to prep in their rooms, plan for their next periods, or meet with their independent grade levels,” said Ostroske. “We also proposed specifically defining what adjunct duties are.”

Ostroske stated that teachers’ duties outside of class, known as adjunct duties, reach “staggering hours.”

“We have made no progress with the district in this sense,” he said. “Teachers are a part of committees, bus duties, and meetings. The association’s concern is that we define what specific duties are absolutely necessary, so that we can be in our rooms prepping and planning. We are looking for adequate time to collaborate, grade, and write progress reports. In reality, what’s considered adequate is never really adequate. Two hundred minutes every two weeks is not a lot, but it’s something guaranteed that we know we will have.”

According to Bixler, FETA and the district have developed some excellent options for preparation time for all teachers.

“A prepared teacher has a huge, positive impact on student success. We understand the importance of preparation time,” said Bixler. “Last year we agreed to give teachers more preparation time before school. This year, we have agreed to more preparation time during student recess, and guaranteed contractual prep time for our junior high/middle school-level teachers.”

Bixler stated that there are good benefits to the PE model.

“What’s great about this idea is that it is a win-win for students and employees. The District proposal will provide a high quality physical education for elementary students, which will enable them to become healthier while their classroom teachers have time to plan lessons and activities to increase achievement,” he said. “Both teams have been very positive about the District’s proposal.”

“As for adjunct duties, this issue has been raised at the table over the past several years,” continued Bixler. “In many ways adjunct duties have been reduced, but the needs of students will continue to be our primary interest.”

Ostroske stated that FETA is asking for fair compensation in health benefits and salaries.

“Since the 2011-2012 school year, budgeting for teachers has gone down in Fallbrook, but has increased for supervisors by $500,000,” he said. “Fallbrook has the sixth highest administrator-to-pupil cost in San Diego County.”

“The district has claimed that Fallbrook was number one in salaries when it came to comparative districts,” said Ostroske. “Generally, the process involves selecting five (other) districts out of 41 comparative districts down towards South Bay. All of the school’s teacher salaries are added up, then averaged. However, that’s not how you should look at salaries; it is actually very difficult to do because of the governor’s new formula.”

According to Ostroske, an imaginary teacher should be walked through the steps of a salary schedule, and compared to a teacher’s salary. When this process is used, Fallbrook teacher salaries are “in the middle of the pack,” said Ostroske.

“We firmly believe that a fair contract with teachers is a fair contract with teachers,” he said. “When you have adequately prepared teachers with manageable class sizes, you have a good contract with students. Teachers are the number one determinant of success, and we want the district to recognize that priority.”

According to Bixler, the district is committed to responsible and sustainable total compensation increases, but FETA’s proposal exceeds a five percent compensation increase in just one year.

Bixler stated, “The governing board’s commitment to responsible and sustainable increases is crystal clear and statistics shared at the table with FETA underscore that commitment:

“FUESD is ranked first in San Diego County with comparable districts in total average compensation; FUESD is ranked seventh in all San Diego County Districts in total average compensation. Districts outperforming FUESD are not similarly funded districts; most FUESD teachers have received an increase of 24.5 percent in their compensation since 2006 through increases totaling 9.5 percent to the salary schedule in addition to regularly scheduled annual increases of approximately 2.5 percent provided each year for most teachers; and teachers have received one time bonuses totaling 10.5 percent since 2006.”

In terms of health and welfare and other fringe benefits, currently some employees pay a portion of the cost for their health and welfare benefits, stated Bixler.

“However, FETA has proposed that the entire cost of health and welfare benefits is solely the District’s responsibility. This is not realistic or sustainable,” he said. “Unfortunately, the association declined an opportunity to reduce benefits costs through plan modifications earlier this year. The district welcomes the opportunity to work with the association on strategies to reduce costs.”

Bixler stated the district will be sharing its economic proposal at the next session and believes it is positive, sustainable and responsible.

However, FETA members did not necessarily feel this was the case.

To show their concerns regarding the negotiations, FETA members organized a gathering at Village Square on Feb. 10 as a way to show support for each other and unite.

Members of the Fallbrook Elementary Teachers Association (FETA) gather in the Village Square in a show of solidarity during contract negotiations with Fallbrook Union Elementary School District.

“It was less of a protest and more of an organizing action,” said Ostroske. “We made strides in our relationship with the district, and we are looking for a true working relationship. However, we want to let the board know we are going to organize and bring issues to community and district board when necessary.”

“We respect all that has been done in the community,” said Ostroske. “The students are working harder, parents are more involved, teachers are obviously working longer hours, and administrators are having impact. We are trying to get across that we need to shift priorities as an entire group, not separate segments of just the teachers, administrators, and parents; we are all in this together.”

Ostroske stated that FETA hopes to continue to engage, while staying away from the negative.

“The biggest thing to take away is that we want a positive resolution,” he said. “Going forward, all we want is a fair contract for students and teachers.”

 

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