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The insanity of negotiations for teacher pay

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POSTED May 11, 2017 1:24 a.m.

Most people probably agree that good teachers are worth their weight in gold and then some.
There’s nothing wrong with embracing such a sentiment. A teacher that does a good job creates a ripple effect that builds on a student’s other experiences to lay the foundation needed for them to be productive members of society.
At the same time schools need stability. They can’t have school boards overspending to the point they set the stage for layoffs.
The question for Manteca Unified and Ripon Unified about how much money teachers may receive this year can’t be driven by sentiment.
It needs to be guided by cold, hard facts.
The State of California has a byzantine school financing process that awards districts money that they then often withhold in part, they also require balanced budgets three years out, and they mandate certain expenditures including the size of general fund reserves. It is also too often the norm for districts to be required to offer a particular program that they must implement and spend money to pay staff and then wait to get payment after the fact.
Then there are restricted funds that can’t be used for the general classroom including teacher salaries for core curriculum.
There are other realities at work. Salaries and benefits account for close to 90 percent of general fund expenditures. Unfunded pension costs are soaring.
You look at the budgets for Ripon Unified and Manteca Unified and it looks as if they are swimming in money. Some critics of the budgeting process that is dictated by Sacramento for the most part see numbers on balance sheets and accuse administrators of “hiding” money.
That does happen in some districts but there is no evidence that it is happening in Manteca Unified or Ripon Unified. What you do see, however, are large sums of money for cash flow purposes. Unlike most workers that get a paycheck weekly or every two weeks, the state doles out most of the money  to schools at much longer intervals can be as long as twice or just once a year.   The districts need money to make payroll and cover ongoing expenses. This is particularly true in the summer when teachers aren’t working but almost all have elected to be paid year round.
Then there is the hocus pocus courtesy of the state’s three year balanced budget mandate. You will notice Sacramento isn’t required to follow the same fiscal practice. While a lot of the three year budget reflects revenue and expenses yet to occur, there needs to be a carryover to make it work. Making it more daunting is the fact districts have to predict what Sacramento will do three years down the road.
Then there are funds that are one-time money the districts won’t receive again. Using such money for one time “salary bonuses” makes fiscal sense but applying it to raises that are a reoccurring expense defines “reckless”. You have the money this year but after it’s gone you are faced with cannibalizing another source or else cutting back on staffing.
That is a simplistic look at some of the budget challenges school districts face. You can see where the process can generate confusion and distrust even if everything is above board.
The school budgeting process also creates gamesmanship that I call “The Charles Parsons Effect.
Parsons was the superintendent of the Roseville Joint Union High School District in the 1970s. When it came to teacher negotiations, he’d draw the line at say 4 percent knowing full well that the district could afford 8 percent. The teachers would respond asking for 12 percent. This would lead to informational picketing and a lot of hard feelings. The district and teachers would then end up settling for 8 percent which is where pragmatists on both sides of the table figured was the right amount to begin with to pay for raises to keep everything in balance.
Meanwhile the Roseville City Schools would take a different approach. They’d offer what realists on both sides of the table knew they could afford — 8 percent. There was still negotiations over non-salary and non-pay issues of which many involved money, but the big issue was fairly cut and dry.
Considering both districts relied on Sacramento for the bulk of their funds just like school districts do today, it was clear the creation of animosity was a colossal waste of energy and goodwill.
At the end of the day the Manteca Educators Association and Ripon Teachers Association have a moral obligation to get the best deal for their members. At the same time the Manteca Unified and Ripon Unified school boards not only need to do right by their teachers and other employees but they have a moral obligation to make sure the schools they oversee are viable and financially stable in the long run as well as in the here and now. If districts aren’t financially stable, layoffs and staff shifts are extremely likely. Besides costing teachers’ jobs and income it creates upheaval in the classroom impacting students.
There doesn’t appear to be game playing going on to a large degree. Teachers are making their points known and the districts are holding their positions they believe are the best for everyone including teachers.
 In a few weeks — or months — both sides in each district are likely to come to deals that are essentially where realists figured they would be at six months ago. The drama, for the most part, will prove to have been unnecessary.
And it would probrably be avoidable if the State of California streamlined its budget and funding process.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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