The Manteca Educators Association has rejected an offer by the Manteca Unified School District that would give eligible teachers up to 60 percent of their final year salary to retire early.
The MEA leadership on Friday rejected the offer outright and did not call for a membership vote. As a result negotiations are now at impasse and will go to mediation.
The district and MEA have a three-year contract already in place through the 2022-2023 school year that commits 85 percent of all new general fund money the state grants in annual cost of living increases that aren’t tied to specific programs to go to teacher salaries and benefits. The contract covers all conditions of employment.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the district and MEA to negotiate a reopening memorandum of understanding (MOU) to address safety conditions and other arrangements for the current school year.
Besides the early retirement offer eight other safety proposals related to the pandemic that the school district has already implemented so the current school year could get started are included in the offer.
Deputy Superintendent Roger Goatcher noted the early retirement incentive — last offered in 2009 when the district faced financial challenges not as daunting as what COVID-19 has created — is to give teachers that could be part of a high at-risk group and qualify for early retirement a choice as well as to provide a cushion against what could be a cut — or extended deferral — of state funding for schools in the fiscal year starting July 1, 2021.
Goatcher said teachers eligible to do so that have concerns about contracting COVID-19 would have the option to retire early when conditions allow students to start transitioning back to the classrooms.
How the early retirement works can be illustrated by taking a $100,000 salary — a pay level that is not uncommon for long serving teachers — and applying it to two options that someone retiring early has.
The district, like they did in 2009 when they last offered early retirement incentives, provides two options on how the $60,000 incentive is paid to the teacher. One is on a lifetime basis that can add $300 to $400 to a monthly retirement check.
The other is a 5-year plan where the teacher would receive around an additional $1,000 a month on top of their retirement.
For every two teachers making $100,000 a year that exercises such a choice, the district can hire three teachers with 10 years each of classroom experience at $60,000 apiece, cover the payment to the firm handling the early retirement, and still save money.
The financial fallout from the pandemic is uncertain. While the district is on solid financial grounds this year due to sufficient reserves as well as opting in March after the pandemic hit not to fill 100 vacant teaching and support staff positions that is allowing it to weather the state deferring 11 percent of the money until July 1, 2021 that it needs to cover the $256.4 million cost of running the district this school year, the following school year will be trickier.
The state — that has had a massive hole blown in its budget with a $54.3 billion deficit after the pandemic closed down much of the economy — plans to defer up to 40 percent of the money local school districts need to operate in the 2021-2022 school year. School districts have been warned that deferrals could be larger or budget cuts may happen.
If that should occur Manteca Unified could be faced with the need to furlough staff and/or eliminate positions.
Goatcher noted the other COVID-19 issues offered in the proposal not only meet but exceed what state and county health officials have recommended local school districts due to assure student and staff safety during the pandemic. Included, as an example, is supplying actual masks to teachers that met county and state health standards rather than just mandating the wearing of masks.
The other proposals that the MEA leadership rejected are as follows:
*District will comply with all public health guidelines to mitigate COVID-19
*District will provide all staff with appropriate personal protection equipment and all schools will adhere to public health safety procedures and protocols.
*District will approve remote work for teachers who may be at high risk for COVID-19 due to health concerns through the interactive process. Forty teachers out of 1,200 have already exercised that option and are teaching remote classes from their homes and not the classroom.
• Clear procedures for moving from distance learning to other instructional phases.
• Teachers may work from home if school campuses are ordered closed.
*Small group and/or one-to-one student instruction for special needs students when authorized by the state.
*Unit members can work remotely in Phase II for the identified 10 flexible minimum days.
The proposal would allow the transition from distance learning to a hybrid model with half the students in class Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half in class Thursdays and Fridays when the county health department determines it is safe to do so. On the days when they are not in class, students would work remotely. Wednesdays would allow for teacher prep.
The board’s phased approach would allow going from hybrid learning to all students in the classroom but with COVID-19 measures in place when conditions warrant it.
“We look forward to working with MEA on the contract and moving things forward for students,” Goatcher added.
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