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Manteca Unified took risky gamble with 8% pay cuts

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POSTED February 1, 2009 4:04 a.m.
The Manteca Unified School District Board played the wrong hand.

In going for the card that distributed the burden for covering the final deficit gap on the backs of every district employee from bus drivers to teachers by taking 8 percent pay cuts that in all practicality could reach 10 percent if employee contributions to health care goes up and you factor in negotiated raises that are going to the way side, the board took a huge gamble.

The employee bargaining groups still have to agree to take the cuts. And after how the school board dodged the tough choices last week and made it sound like they were the only ones thinking of the kids, getting them to agree to much of anything that even comes close to the vicinity of the 8 percent pay cuts is about as likely as George W. Bush ultimately going down in the history books as the absolutely greatest American president ever.

Let’s say the Manteca Teachers Association balks on the 8 percent pay cut and March 15 passes. Under state law, Manteca Unified can’t get rid of any teachers already on staff who have tenure after that date for the 2009-10 school year. Of course, the board can always take a chain saw to the ranks of the classified employees and may be forced to curtail things they want to avoid cutting last week such as much of the district’s bus transportation.

Essentially the board unwittingly gave control of the game to the MTA and their president Ken Johnson. Perhaps they can explain that one to Manteca Unified taxpayers and parents.

There may be an expectation that teachers “wouldn’t” block such a “fair” move.

Guess again. During the 100-member budget reduction committee sub-group gatherings, the folks who were most reasonable were the teachers. There were more than a few a site administrators who became territorial. Why? If their campus closed or was combined with another, they’d either lose their jobs or they’d be bumped down in rank and pay to teaching.

It didn’t have to come down to either icing Lathrop High, 8 percent pay cuts across the board, or dropping all transportation.

The committee did a herculean job of analyzing various options. The board apparently chose not to wade through the political mine fields of the other Level III cuts.

There was a concern in administrative ranks that combining Calla High and New Vision would create a cultural clash between the Stockton students and those in Manteca-Lathrop who attend Calla. Really. So why didn’t we hear about the problems that such a cultural clash would create before New Vision opened in Weston Ranch a few years ago and the Stockton students attended Calla High? The board didn’t seriously consider the $500,000 annual savings.

The same was true of combining Nile Garden-Veritas and New Haven-Joshua Cowell. The board obviously didn’t want to consider such a move. Between those three moves to combine schools and cobbling together other Level III cuts along with perhaps charging for transportation the board could have come extremely close to what they needed. They may still have needed to ask the employees for a pay cut across the board but certainly not 8 percent.

No one is going to say that closing Lathrop High or going with the option to shut down three campuses by combining them with the others was going to get the board a lot of warm fuzzies from the communities that would have been impacted.

Now the board has put in place a plan where every kid in the district could aversely be impacted. Do the math. Virtually every classified employee would have to be history if the financial scenario goes down as unfolded before the board and the MTA balks.

Let’s say the board gets lucky with their misdeal. All employee groups agree to the hit. Now you have teachers - especially in the lowering ranges not to mention the lower paid classified employees stressing about their financial well being. By saving a few jobs by spreading the pain in pay cuts, the board proclaimed they were doing the right thing by kids by saying “we’re not an employment agency.” The board is absolutely correct. They are not an employment agency but they are an employer. Instead of trying to take a Pollyanna view of the situation, they needed to act like an employer. That meant protect their “product” - the education of kids – and making sure they had the right staffing that was able to get the job done under the least amount of financial stress.

Employers that are making it through these tough times are restructuring. They are shedding some jobs, and holding the line on pay cuts. They are also closing stores and plants as well as consolidating operations.

Manteca Unified isn’t pulling back. They got ahead of growth much like major retailers. Yet they see this only as a state budget crisis. It is a crisis, though, complicated by the growth Manteca Unified was experiencing. That is why cuts are deeper in Manteca Unified  than in slower growing districts.

The board did nothing wrong in getting ahead of growth. They misread the slowdown when they opened Lathrop High arguably a year early. And now they are living in denial by taking a big gamble.
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