After negotiations on a new contract stalled last year, the teachers union and Cabrillo Unified School District officials will come back to the table this week.

Cabrillo Unified Teachers’ Association Co-president Sean Riordan and bargaining chair Kathleen Wall said they’re looking to negotiate a new contract that includes back pay for teachers for the 2019-20 school year after they received no raise last year.

The negotiations have been ongoing since February 2019, when union representatives walked away from a 2 percent raise tied to the passage of the $1.6 million parcel tax. At the time, they cited increases in the cost of living that exceeded the offered raise. Ever since, district leaders have been reluctant to present a new offer due to changing budget circumstances.

In a written statement shared with the Review, Riordan and Wall outlined the main points the union hopes will lead the district to find room in its budget to shift funds to raises for teachers. The parcel tax is one. Union negotiators said teaching staff and the community worked hard to pass the tax with the understanding that some of the funds would go to raising salaries in an effort to attract and retain high-caliber teachers.

And with 15 percent of the district’s budget in reserves — and a recently passed “aspirational” increase to 16 percent — they propose moving 3 percent, around $390,000, from the district’s reserves to fund pay raises for the 2019-20 school year.

“The money is sitting in the bank,” Riordan said.

District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge sees the passed parcel tax as funding that prevented even greater budget cuts in the fall and thinks pulling ongoing salary money from a stagnant pool of reserves, especially while the district is in poor financial health, is a bad idea.

When it comes to negotiating a new contract, McPhetridge said he can’t operate in a vacuum. He said he is weighing current and future conditions to avoid the deficit spending that got the district into its current financial trouble. And with the state budget yet to be finalized and the full effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still unknown, McPhetridge said he worries about shifting money to pay salaries when an economic downturn is on the horizon and the district may face future cutbacks.

“To make an offer now would be financially irresponsible,” McPhetridge said.

Their disagreement is philosophical, McPhetridge said, and their approach to addressing the effects of COVID-19 underscores that difference. Wall and Riordan think their raise should be considered outside of the current economic situation — noting that they do expect pay cuts as a result of it — but McPhetridge argues that the two are inseparable.

And when the California Legislature stepped in after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced sweeping cuts to education in his

revised budget, both Wall and McPhetridge were paying

attention. To McPhetridge, the move is evidence that the state budget has yet to be finalized. To Wall, it’s an

example of a creative budgeting solution, and the union hopes the district can learn from it.

Wall and Riordan said it’s past time teachers in the district got a pay raise — and that low wages in Cabrillo contribute to the loss of experienced teachers. They said they’ve been working hard to create competitive wages but are up against structural problems, including budget mismanagement at the district level.

Also at play in the negotiations are the results of a budget inquiry conducted by the California Fiscal Crisis Management Team, which was brought in by San Mateo County this year to examine the district’s finances after it reported a $2.6 million budget deficit last year.

The FCMAT report identified factors driving the district’s budget problems, including declining enrollment, budget mismanagement and employee pay that takes up 90 percent of the share of the budget, over the recommended 87 percent. Highlighted in the report were staff raises that exceeded the cost of living adjustment for the past two years.

Wall and Riordan argue that FCMAT’s numbers overestimate the pay increases they negotiated and misrepresent what is driving the budget deficit. FCMAT Chief Analyst John Von Flue, who is familiar with the calculations in the report, said the discrepancy lies in what was agreed upon in the salary schedule versus the actual cost to the district based on what individuals were ultimately paid.

What may seem like a small calculation difference could have a big effect on the perception of whether teachers’ salaries are increasing at a rate that’s comparable to increasing living costs on the Coastside. And as union and district leaders head into negotiations this week, their competing priorities and different outlooks may face off once again.

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