State declares impasse in teacher pay dispute

State declares impasse in teacher pay dispute

Michele Ellson

A state board has declared an impasse in negotiations between Alameda’s teachers’ union and school district leaders over pay.

The state Public Employment Relations Board declared an impasse over pay negotiations on Thursday, at the request of the Alameda Education Association. A state mediator will now be brought in to try to broker a deal between the union and schools administrators, and if that fails, a three-person factfinding body will examine each side’s case and make recommendations.

Schools leaders offered Alameda’s teachers a 2.5 percent pay increase on February 8, with the opportunity for either side to reopen discussions about pay in January 2014. The teachers’ union, which has sought a 4.5 percent pay increase for all 530 of its members, rejected the offer the same day and asked the state to declare an impasse.

On January 24, the district offered a 2 percent raise plus stipends for teachers who participated in a two-year Professional Learning Communities pilot, and teachers countered with a proposal that would have given them a 2.5 percent raise this year and 2 percent next year. Both of the district’s offers included an additional rise in pay for starting teachers and stipends for teachers with speech-language pathology credentials, along with career technical education teachers, who would be merged into the main salary schedule.

The core issue appears to be whether the district can afford the pay raises teachers are asking for over the time frame they’re seeking them. Association president Gray Harris had said she believed the school district’s initial offer on January 24 was proof the district has the money to give teachers the raises they’re requesting, while district officials – in a series of proposals and press releases – have outlined potential funding challenges they believe they still could face and have said they hope to boost teacher pay over time.

In an e-mail to a reporter last week, Superintendent Kirsten Vital put the cost of a 2.5 percent pay raise at $4.06 million over four years, with the other pay proposals costing a combined $300,000 a year. A 2 percent raise would have cost $3.25 million over four years, while the Professional Learning Communities stipends would cost up to $600,000 a year over the two years they would be offered.

Using those numbers, the teachers’ union’s requested across the board raise would cost the school district about $1.8 million a year, while district’s current proposal would cost about $1.3 million a year for each of the four years it covered. Its prior offer, which included money for the Professional Learning Communities pilot, would have cost about $1.7 million a year for each of the two years the pilot was in place and $1.1 million a year after that.

Last year the union said that a 1 percent a year pay raise that was part of a pay and class size agreement teachers rejected would add $399 to $798 a year to teachers’ checks. The starting salary for career technical education teachers is $39,746.82, while top pay for teachers with additional training and years of teaching experience is $79,883.10.

Harris has expressed frustration over the pace of bargaining and the district’s offers, noting that Alameda’s teachers have not seen an increase in their salary schedule since 2008. Union leaders have complained that they waited nearly 10 months to receive a pay proposal from the district after submitting their last offer, in April 2012, and union leaders have long maintained the district’s growing reserves could be used to pay teachers more.

Harris said district officials told them they could not provide a counteroffer “until after they knew the results of Prop 30,” a tax hike initiative that included funding for schools, and later, until after Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed budget.

“The district has been telling us all along that if they just had the money, they would offer us a salary increase,” Harris said after the district offered its January 24 pay proposal. “It just kind of feels like now, in their salary proposal, they’ve admitted that they have the money to offer a 4.5 percent raise. Two percent plus (the stipend) is the same amount of money we’ve proposed. They’ve said they have the money and they’re still not giving it to us.”

Administrators, meanwhile, said the school board wants to see teachers’ pay increase to a level that’s comparable to other districts – Alameda’s teachers are the second-lowest paid in the county – but that trustees also want to make sure they have enough cash on hand to deal with future fiscal curveballs.

“The Board also remains committed to its goal of preserving an appropriate financial reserve for economic and financial uncertainties, and recognizes that the goal of increasing overall compensation for its employees can only be realized over a period of years,” a summary sheet detailing administrators’ January 24 offer says.

Vital said she believes the district and the union were making progress at the bargaining table and that she hoped bargaining could continue. While Harris expressed frustration that the cash value of the district’s latest offer was less than the one it made on January 24, Vital has said the new terms were made in response to the union’s desire to not have pay tied to additional work.

“We are disappointed that AEA has once again decided to declare impasse,” Vital said. “We remain willing to negotiate and find reasonable compromises in negotiations. We need to get back to the table and resolve these issues.”

Vital has also outlined a series of potential costs the district could face over the next few years that she believes could impact the district’s finances, including a potential ruling over a 2008 parcel tax that could see the district refunding some $7.4 million in Measure H payments made by commercial property owners and changes in the way the state funds schools that could mean fewer dollars for Alameda’s schools.

In response to questions last week, Vital said that the true cost of the union’s proposals could be higher because the school board has directed administrators to consider pay for all of the district’s employees during bargaining, and not just pay for teachers.

While the district’s latest offer of a 2.5 percent, across the board raise would have cost the district $4.06 million over four years, Vital said, the total cost would be $5.75 million “because it takes into account the value of compensating all employees.”

District officials and union leaders are posting information on their respective websites. The school district’s labor negotiations page is here, while the union’s updates will be posted here.

Pay negotiations: A timeline

Teachers and school district leaders swapped pay proposals for more than a year before a state board declared an impasse at the teachers’ union’s request. Here’s a timeline of events.

March 22, 2012: District administrators and the Alameda Education Association reached a tentative class size and pay deal that included a one-time, 1 percent salary bump and a permanent 1.5 increase this year contingent on funding not dropping more than $22 per student. Teachers rejected the deal a week later, though Harris said it was rejected not because of the money “but because of the other demands made by AUSD.”

April 13, 2012: The teachers’ union proposed a 4.5 percent pay increase for all teachers, plus an unspecified increase in the district’s health care contribution.

January 24, 2013: District administrators countered the union’s proposals by offering a 2 percent salary increase for all of the district’s teachers, with additional pay raises for starting teachers, career technical education teachers and stipends for teachers with a speech-language pathology credential. They also offered a second proposal that would have paid teachers who participate in a Professional Learning Communities pilot a $1,000 stipend for each of the two years of the pilot.

January 24, 2013: The teachers’ union rejected the district’s offers and proposed splitting a 4.5 percent pay raise over two years and withdrawing their request for additional health care contributions, which the district rejected. The union then asked the state Public Employment Relations Board to declare an impasse, a request they withdrew after the district said it had a counteroffer.

February 8, 2013: District administrators offered a 2.5 percent pay increase for all of Alameda Unified’s teachers, with a chance for either the district or the union to take another look at pay in January, plus additional pay for new teachers and those with a speech-language pathology credential. The union rejected the offer and another from the district to hire a mediator to settle the pay dispute and again asked the state to declare an impasse. The state declared an impasse on February 14.

Sources: Alameda Education Association, Alameda Unified School District