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End In Sight For Negotiations?
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The bad news is: our teachers have not yet settled salary negotiations. The good news is: if settled they have the opportunity to reopen for another increase in October.

A few weeks back I penned a personal piece from the Mommy standpoint, hoping the District would succumb and pay our teachers what they are deserving. The reality is it’s not all that simple.

For the past three months I have sat in OJUSD school board meetings listening to gripping and heartfelt testimony from educators during Public Comment. They each want what is fair. To feel valued through the way of increase, not just acknowledgement.

As one speaker said most recently, the acknowledgement is nice but it doesn’t pay for college.

Educators are just like the rest of us. They work hard, support families and contribute to our community.

There is no argument that being a teacher is a tough and underappreciated job, globally speaking. There does, however, seem to be some public misperception which was brought to my attention when a mom spoke during the last board meeting.

Our teachers were in fact asked to take a 1.5 percent salary reduction that included three furlough days in the 2009-10 school year. This reduction was due to a declining economy which we all lived through and as an effort to maintain employment of as many teachers as possible. The 2010-11 school year brought another 1 percent cut and two more furlough days. They were now working at a deficit of 2.5 percent less and five less days than the 2008-09 school year.

This was during a time when the state of California, as well as the federal government was scraping by, at best.

Activity in the way of negotiations continued as the economy slowly began to return. Fast forward to the 2013-14 school year, salaries were restored and furlough days were wiped from the calendar. In addition a 1 percent increase was given, as well as a 2 percent off schedule bonus.

Is that ideal? For many … No.

What has not been noted and is equally public information is one additional fact. Even during the lean years, the years when teachers statewide were taking cuts, their Certified Salary Schedule Step increases remained intact.

This is based on credits, years of service and additional education gained, but nonetheless it has been maintained. Equating roughly to an average of $2,000 per year or 4 percent. This is completely separate from Oakdale Teachers Association negotiations.

It should also be noted it has a cap or freeze period, to put it in layman’s terms. In other words, if an educator chooses not to further their education during their tenure the time will come when their step increases halt and cease to resume for a number of years. Continued education appears to be the carrot, which reaps long term reward in the way of pay.

The current offer by OJUSD to OTA is a 5 percent increase and a 1 percent off schedule bonus. Undeniably the largest amount they have been offered in a very long time.

The same amount was offered to California School Employees’ Association Chapter #830, they accepted. As a result the ‘classified’ employees as well as management and administrators will now all receive the increase, which is retroactive to July, 2014. To date OJUSD teachers are the only ones operating without an agreed upon contract.

The district’s large reserve seems to be a rather large bone of contention. A number which many districts maintain at 3 percent or a bit above. OJUSD’s is reported at 18.3 percent prior to negotiations being settled. Settlement of salary would reduce this number to 14 percent, roughly. That’s still a big number.

District personnel have disclosed reason and rationale as to why they are currently uncomfortable with operating on a 3 percent reserve. OJUSD has always maintained a larger than average reserve. A fact which allowed them to continue to pay employees when money slowed up from the state during hard economic times. It is best described as a conservative district. The upside is, if the additional padding that has been deemed necessary is not used as specified, OTA has the ability to go back and ask for more in October.

Personalizing it a bit, in 2011 I too took a pay cut and was told increases would be placed on a freeze until further notice. The newspaper business is a tough and lean one. Each day gets tougher, but I love my trade. I’ve also lived my fair share of bankrupt companies in my day and have had one severance check more than I care to report. I was grateful for the opportunity to take a cut to spare my job. Our doors stayed open and we have returned to positive flow and increases based on performance.

We’ve lived through the recession and many are still recovering. Some lost homes, were forced to downsize and have experienced a hike in health care. As much as I hate to admit it, I can place a check next to each one of those items.

So now what for OTA and OJUSD? They return to the bargaining table yet again. One side in hopes that the other has found more money. Another side in hopes that they trust that their best is being offered and they will return to the table in the fall if the money is there.