Teachers in the Ramona Unified School District are still pleading for raises despite the fact that salary discussions have come to a halt.
The school board meeting on March 8 drew a large throng of teachers into the district office. Teachers are unhappy with the district’s offer of a one-time 3% incentive rather of a wage raise, according to Ramona Teachers Association President Cori McDonald, who spoke to trustees. According to her, teachers gave their initial proposal to the district in April 2021.
Instructors need increases to keep up with increased costs, according to McDonald, especially because teachers stepped up during the epidemic to master new digital tools for remote learning and returned to the classroom sooner than many other districts in the county.
When making long-term commitments, Trustee Bob Stoody said he had to assess whether the school system will get more or less revenue each year, and then measure that against the likelihood of built-in and unanticipated expenditure increases.
One reason Ramona kids did not experience the effects of the district’s financial loss in 2008 and the years after, as did students in many other California districts, was the use of a long-term planning method that matched income with costs, according to Stoody.
“Since the district gets most of our income from the state, our income tends to be tied to the financial health of the state,” Stoody said by email. “I am reminded of the 2008 recession when (with no warning) Sacramento drastically cut our income and basically told us we were on our own to meet our obligations, contracts and commitments.”
McDonald said that the district’s one-time offer of a 3% bonus does not apply to a teacher’s pay and so does not contribute toward CalSTRS retirement benefits.
“It is frustrating to hear that teachers are just requesting another raise,” McDonald said after the meetingin an email. “This is not true. We are asking to be made whole during this economic time while ensuring members don’t fall further behind.”
During the meeting, Emily Maehler, an English teacher at Ramona High School, stated that over half of Ramona Unified’s teachers travel to work.
“To keep quality teachers we need competitive salaries,” Maehler said. “We can’t expect to entice quality teachers who commute with less pay and benefits.”
Maehler requested that the board consider providing salaries that are both fair and similar to those paid in adjacent school systems, as well as appropriate to cover cost-of-living increases.
Giovanna Roed, a sixth-grade teacher at Ramona Elementary School, detailed the demanding tasks that the teacher certification program did not prepare her for. She feels compelled to pursue specialized training and job education on her own time and with her own money, she added.
“Annual salary increases, bonuses and accolades are minimal despite the relentless job demands,” Roed said.
Fifth-grade teacher Brianna Lombera, a colleague at Ramona Elementary, said instructors had incorporated new learning technology, assisted children in closing learning gaps throughout the epidemic, and prepared lessons outside of scheduled work hours.
Trustees discussed a staff report later in the meeting that detailed fiscal problems the district would face in the future school years.
The amount of revenue the district receives from the state is influenced by average daily attendance, or ADA, according to Rena Seifts, assistant superintendent of administrative services. She claims that since COVID, ADA has dropped dramatically, from a normal 96 percent of the school population to about 90 percent now. According to a staff study, the district’s ADA is predicted to decrease from 5,124 children this school year to 4,655 pupils next school year.
“There are many factors that could have contributed to a reduced ADA,” Seifts saidafter the meeting in an email. “A significant factor is the California Department of Public Health quarantine requirements for students who test positive for COVID or who are in close contact with an individual who has tested positive. We feel COVID was the biggest cause of the reduction in ADA.”
According to a staff study, costs would rise from $55.39 million this school year to $55.43 million the following year and $57.32 million in 2023-24. Salaries and perks for all employment categories, according to Seifts, have increased the most. Employee pension schemes rise each year, and as employees’ tenure with the district lengthens and they go up the compensation structure, those increases are roughly 2% yearly, she said.
The school board must pass the budget for the following fiscal year, as well as predictions for the two years after that, by June 30 each year, according to Seifts.
According to Seifts, the governor’s budget update projects a 5.07 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this year, which is an increase to Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to offset the effects of rising costs. According to her, it will rise to 5.33 percent in the 2022-23 school year before falling to 3.61 percent the following year.
According to Seifts, the COLA prediction establishes the income increases, if any, that are applied to the Local Control Funding Formula, which determines the district’s revenue for the current and upcoming years.
McDonald pointed out that when COLAs rise, the school district receives more money from the state.
“In other words, the Ramona Unified School District received an ongoing increase to their overall funding of just over 5 percent from the state, yet they only offered teachers a one-time 3 percent bonus instead of adding money onto our pay scale,” she said.
Ramona educators would fall farther behind, she added, with the national inflation rate predicted to be over 15% over the next two years and housing costs up 20% in the previous year.
“Our team has met several times with the district leadership over the course of this entire school year,” McDonald said. “While we have made some progress in agreeing on some of the language in our contract, we are at a standstill over salary and benefits. Without an on-schedule salary offer, we are now at an impasse. The mediator has been assigned and we will be meeting in early May.”
It’s tough for the board to make judgments based on assumptions, according to Trustee Rodger Dohm, especially because the state budget isn’t scheduled to be adopted until May.
“Not only do we have inflation, but we have inflation on top of inflation,” Dohm said. “For teachers and classified staff and managers we have to cover that cost. There’s these hypothetical scenarios but really we don’t know what will happen until May. It makes it difficult for us to make decisions based on hunches.”