WATSONVILLE — Pajaro Valley Unified School District offered its teachers a 2 percent raise in the latest round of budget negotiations on Oct. 18.
Teachers, meanwhile, say the district could afford more by tapping into its $57 million reserve, and by shifting its priorities to focus on its educators.
The raise would begin upon ratification by the teachers union and approval by the Board of Trustees.
The district is also offering stipends for bilingual teachers and for roving teachers and “improvements” to the salary schedules of early childhood and adult education teachers.
The latest offer is in addition to a one-time $3,200 payment the district offered to the teachers last month.
PVUSD has previously balked at giving an ongoing raise, saying it is already deficit spending to the tune of $1.6 million last year, and as such could not afford it.
District officials say they found the money by suggesting modifications to teacher health benefits. Specifically, raising copays for doctor visits from $10 to $20, and by switching to generic prescription drugs.
“That simple shift can save us millions of dollars,” PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said.
Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers Chief Negotiator Nelly Vaquera-Boggs said that the district is essentially asking teachers to shoulder the cost of their own raise by making it contingent on changing their health benefits.
“This is not the district finding 2 percent in their budget,” she said. “This is cost sharing.”
Another sticking point is that teachers are asking for any salary increase to be retroactive to the 2016-17 school year, since current negotiations cover that school year.
District officials call that a financial impossibility.
The teachers union points to the district’s $57 million ending fund balance from the 2016-17 school year as proof it has the funds to afford a raise.
The district, meanwhile, says the bulk of that reserve comes from “one-time” monies delved through a line-by-line examination of the budget earlier this year.
PVFT President Francisco Rodriguez has said that the district has historically underestimated its ending fund balance.
Most recently, the district projected in March it would end the 2016-17 school year with a $19 million reserve, a number that grew to the size it is now.
Teachers also accuse the district of underpaying them, a problem they say is causing an exodus of qualified teachers to districts with better pay.
But teachers’ salaries don’t tell the whole story, Michelle Rodriguez said.
Adding in their benefits package brings teachers into the top four in a comparison of compensation packages from 33 Central Coast school districts, she said.
According to data from the California Department of Education, PVUSD spends 85.7 percent of its budget on employee salary and benefits.
The rest, Michelle Rodriguez said, goes to special education and transportation.
“Our latest offer is really in recognition of trying to support the teachers, and wanting to ensure they can live and thrive in the community,” she said. “There continues to be a feeling that we don’t want to listen and we don’t care … The fact is that we cannot do it.”
PVFT is asking for a $4,408 raise for all its teachers, to be retroactive to the previous school year, in addition to an 8 percent increase for early childhood and adult education teachers.
Michelle Rodriguez said that the union’s proposal would cost $12 million every year, and would send the district $2.4 million into the red within three years.
Should that happen, Michelle Rodriguez said the district would be forced to consider teacher layoffs.
“What we’re trying to do is to live within our means,” she said. “We’re trying to give the staff what they need because it’s a very expensive area to live in. At the same time the most important thing is fiscal solvency.”
But Francisco Rodriguez said that those numbers come from a so-called “me too clause,” which is the district’s promise to allow classified employees to reap the benefits of other union negotiations, should those prove more fruitful.
“They put themselves in that position,” he said. “What we would like is to have the board of trustees really look at their priorities. We believe that one of their top priorities should be retaining qualified teachers.”
Both sides return to the negotiating table on Dec. 6.