The Pleasanton Unified School District negotiating team is not prepared to reopen the 2022-23 contract that the APT ratified last year, but they are eager to return to the table for next year's negotiation process, according to PUSD director of communications Patrick Gannon.
"We acknowledge the concerns raised by our teachers regarding benefits and cost of living," Gannon told the Weekly on Tuesday.
"We are ready to return to the negotiating table and are interested in negotiating a pathway to increase existing benefits to employees," he said. "We are now engaged in negotiations for 2023-2024 where we expect a total compensation increase.
The concerns over compensation were raised in public comment by several APT members during the Feb. 9 school board meeting, where over 300 supporters showed up, and during the Feb. 23 meeting, where dozens also voiced the need for PUSD to invest in their teachers who might be struggling to make ends meet.
"One of the district's organizational goals is to recruit and retain a highly qualified workforce and goal No. 4 of Pleasanton's (Human Resource Department's) divisional goals is to retain 90% of all staff for the 2023-24 school year. Not valuing our educators by not paying them a fair return for their work that they do, doesn't retain highly qualified teachers in Pleasanton," said Erin Salcido, a first grade teacher at Alisal Elementary School, during the public speaker portion of the Feb. 23 board meeting.
"Rather, it leads to a mass exodus of teachers leaving the district and a decline in quality programs Pleasanton teachers can offer to their students," Salcido added.
Last May, both sides approved a new collective bargaining agreement between the district and the teachers association that included a 3.5% salary increase and new health benefits.
The contract, which is open for negotiations every three years, covers the next three academic years, with a one-year settlement for the 2022-23 portion of the agreement and health benefits for employees in line with CalPERS health benefits -- a maximum of $5,000 including all CalPERS-required contributions.
Teachers union and district representatives negotiate salary, calendar and benefits every year, and each side of the negotiations teams gets the opportunity to open to articles in the contract to renegotiate.
But according to Cheryl Atkins, president of the teachers union, while those benefits that APT had agreed to last year were acceptable, it was still not enough.
"All APT members received 3.5% of a salary increase, all members were offered $5,000 towards medical -- which is only taken by about 26% of our members -- others received cash in lieu of $1,500, which will increase to $2,000 next year," Atkins told the Weekly. "While the $5,000 money for benefits was certainly appreciated and needed by our members, medical benefits increased by 11%, so they did not feel an increase in their paychecks."
She added that the last two years of the negotiation process was "long and contentious", and when that process ended last November, both the district and the union agreed "to come to the table to bargain for the 2022-23 school year with a focus on getting to an agreement in a timely manner."
And for the time being, that is what had happened.
Back in December, both parties signed a memorandum of understanding to clarify the language in their contract regarding calculating time off for personal or medical reasons. This was after APT sunshined -- which is another way of saying it reopened -- the article in the contract regarding class sizes and caseloads for negotiations during the 2023-24 school year.
The Board of Trustees, superintendent, executive cabinet, California School Employees Association and district staff all even underwent interest-based bargaining training that was supposed to help facilitate mutually-beneficial settlements.
But then, according to Atkins and several APT members, when they asked the district management to return to the table after they found out about the surplus funds from the state, district representatives said no.
"In July 2022, districts received the largest adjustment in the history of the (Local Control Funding Formula)," Atkins said, citing the LCFF funding formula, which is the mechanism through which most of the state's public schools are funded. "The state made an additional investment into LCFF of 6.7% to increase the base allocation. Then an additional 6.56% was added to the new base for COLA. This equals 13.2% of additional on-going money for PUSD."
Atkins said that because of this surplus of money she was hoping the district would look at the situation as a chance to provide teachers with the medical benefits that they deserve.
"PUSD is a destination district. The district has used this platitude over and over again to justify ignoring valid concerns and for refusing to make any appropriate compromise," Haley Baldwin, a Amador Valley High School social science teacher, told the Board of Trustees. "I am asking you today to please see past that dilution. PUSD is no longer a destination district. As of this year, PUSD now offers the lowest total compensation package in the Tri-Valley."
And it isn't just the teachers that asked for the same request.
"PUSD has lost nurses to neighboring school districts, and also to higher paying jobs in health care. We have lost 50% of the nurses hired since August 2020. I repeat that again, we've lost 50% of our nurses since August 2020," said Susan Han, the lead district nurse, at the Feb. 23 meeting. "You might think that this was due to a nursing shortage, it was not. We lost them because we're no longer competitive in salary and benefits, especially health insurance."
But Gannon said that during the 2022-23 negotiations, the district had offered contingency language that would have "improved compensation greater than 5.5% in the event the district received additional dollars from the state, but APT and (California Teachers Association) declined that offer."
Atkins still said that the union was disappointed that the district management had originally said no to coming back to the table for the 2022-23 contract and that the district didn't share how they intended to spend that surplus money.
One of the main points that she and most of the teachers made during the Feb. 23 meeting was that the district should reopen the contract for one main reason other than just compensation -- they said the district should reopen it because the teachers did the same thing for the district in 2008.
Paul Stewart, a physical education teacher at Hearst Elementary School, reminded everyone at the board meeting that during the Great Recession, the PUSD superintendent at the time, John Casey, had asked the union to help the district find ways to save money.
"What Dr. Casey did not know is that we had already been in discussions on what to do, because we were not about to let important programs and staff be taken away from the students of this district," Stewart said.
"We wanted to be part of the solution," Stewart added. "So we opened the contract and offered up eight furlough days over the next 16 months to help cover the needs of the students. Let me repeat, we willingly opened up a closed contract when we had no obligation to do so. We did that for the students and I guarantee we would do it again if needed."
But Gannon attempted to reassure that the district is still eager to work with the union in the 2023-24 negotiations process.
"The current date offered by APT to negotiate is six weeks from now and we would encourage our APT and CTA partners to come to the table sooner to address these issues for our employees," Gannon said.