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FUESD teachers rally for pay increase

Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD) teachers are making their voices heard. The group held a rally Wednesday, March 2, to create public awareness of their struggle for a pay increase. According to teachers' union representatives, the district administration has not budged during the negotiation process.

"Two years ago, we had a similar rally," said FUESD teacher representative Ken Ostroske at the beginning of the rally. "This is about the teachers and what you do each and every day, every night, every weekend, holiday, and vacation. We have tallied hours of overtime that teachers have done for the past four to six weeks – it’s dedication that you show each day."

"Look at those hours and juxtapose what the district is offering us; they are saying all those hours are worth four percent," said Ostroske. "We say no deal. We are going to have to go further because they do not recognize our effort – we have to be prepared to stand steady. The offer is disrespectful."

Ostroske said both sides have met several times in the negotiation process. While the first several meetings were primarily used to deal with non-financial matters, the negotiations "hit a wall" once finances were discussed, said Ostroske.

"Our proposal and the district’s proposals were fairly far apart to begin with. The district came in with one offer, and we came in with an offer based on what we believe was feasible based on the new revenues this year," said Ostroske. "The district will receive $3.85 million in new ongoing funding, $2.6 million in one-time money for this year, and a $411,000 teacher effectiveness grant. That is just from the state, not including federal funding."

According to Ostroske, the teachers union countered several times, but the district has not offered issued a counter offer.

"The district offered a four percent increase, and our current proposal is a 7.5 percent ongoing salary schedule increase, a $500 increase to health and welfare coverage, and a one-time three percent increase from the one time money," said Ostroske. "We are looking for a compromise, but the district is sticking to their first offer, making no attempt to negotiate. They are offering us 24 cents on the dollar of new ongoing funding, and 14 cents on the dollar of the increase."

According to FUESD assistant superintendent Bill Billingsley, the district has provided a substantial increase to teachers’ salary and benefits in excess of 17 percent in the past three school years.

"The board’s ongoing commitment to its employees has kept FUESD certificated employees ahead of most districts in the county," said Billingsley. "This commitment has continued despite declining enrollment – 5,860 students in 2010-11 to 5,056 students this year – corresponding revenue losses, increased CalSTRS costs and significant investments in programs, support for teachers, professional development, technology integration, and additional personnel for the direct benefit of students, employees and our community. In addition to consistent increases to salary, FUESD pays up to $15,979 annually to employees to cover health insurance benefits, ranking FUESD number one in salary and benefits compared to similar districts."

"FUESD’s governing board continues to provide responsible and sustainable increases to salary and benefits which includes an offer to increase salary and benefits by four percent for the 2015/16 school year," said Billingsley. "Total compensation increases, including the district’s proposed four percent increase for 15-16, exceed 17.5 percent."

Billingsley stated the increase broke down as follows: teachers received a nine percent increase for the 2013-2014 academic school year, a 4.5 percent increase in the 2015-2016 academic year, and the four percent proposed increase.

Ostroske stated that he was not aware of how the district determined its numbers, but that the teacher increases totaled eight percent in the past three years. He also stated that teachers in FUESD have only seen small increases over the last three years, following four years with no pay increases.

"In the 2012-2013 school year we got a two percent increase; in 2013-2014 we got a three percent increase and a four percent one time bonus to offset healthcare costs; and last year we received a three percent increase with a $500 one time bonus for healthcare costs," said Ostroske. "In 2011-2012, we did not receive a pay increase, but had a three percent one time bonus for healthcare. Beyond that, we did not receive any increases or bonuses except for 2008-2009, when we had a two percent one time offset bonus."

Typically, teachers’ pay takes approximately 43 percent of the district’s budget because of the role that teachers play in everyday schoolwork.

"Without teachers, you have no school," said Ostroske. "We are only bargaining with about 77 percent of the total district funding. Obviously the percentage we are asking for is much lower."

Billingsley said the increase in funding comes from the local control funding formula, which requires that funding be used directly to assist students.

"We’ve provided technology, hired PE teachers, and given teachers time to collaborate and prepare for their lessons," said Billingsley. "We have really rich tech programs, and additional staff so teachers don’t have recess duty. We are using the dollars to give more teachers time to collaborate."

In addition, Billingsley stated that FUESD is offering teacher comparative salary increases.

"Most districts in North County are settling around the three to four percent salary increase range," said Billingsley. "FETA came in close to 10 percent at the beginning of negotiations, and now are close to 7.5 percent. We feel that the four percent is a responsible and sustainable amount on top of what we've given in previous years. It is not possible to offer seven, eight or nine percent, nor has any district provided those kinds of increases. Comparing with comparable districts, we're number one in increases."

As part of the bargaining process, the teachers have asked that part of the teacher effectiveness grant – which can only be spent in a certain way – be used to raise the stipend for Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) providers.

"In addition to regular teaching duties, these teachers give time and attention to new teachers. These providers are paid $65 a month," explained Ostroske. "We want to attract the best teachers to guide new teachers, so we have asked for a modest bump for the BTSA providers."

Ostroske stated the district and teachers have a conceptual agreement as part of a comprehensive package in regards to BTSA teachers.

Ostroske stated that his financial information came from the district’s J-90 forms, which the district files with the state for collective bargaining. These forms clearly state what pay increase, if any, is given to teachers by the district.

"The biggest issue that teachers are having with this, is that as we look at available funding in the district, we know that [the administration] can do better for teachers," said Ostroske. "Teachers work anywhere from 65 to 75 hours a week, at night, during weekends, and on holidays. It’s a 24/7 job for the duration of the school year."

"FUESD continues to negotiate in good faith," said Billingsley. "FUESD is very flexible as to how the proposed four percent salary increase gets spread across compensation: either increased salary, increased benefits, or both. The four percent proposed increase reflects a responsible and sustainable salary increase to FUESD certificated employees."

Ostroske stated that the teachers union is willing to compromise and reach a settlement with the district. However, Ostroske stated that the teachers wish to see equal treatment in pay raises.

"If someone were to look at raises in administration in the past five years, people would be astonished to see that many increases are double digit – some go from 22 percent to 43 percent. We expect equity, not necessarily from salary amounts, but when an increase is given to one group, we expect that increase to be given to those doing the work in classrooms," said Ostroske.

Negotiations between the district and teachers representatives are continuing with counter-offers.


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