Rod Wright loves his job.
He also loves Ripon.
It is why the Ripon High teacher is worried the things that allow Ripon Unified to enjoy a high level of success with educating Ripon’s youth may be in jeopardy. Those “things” are high quality teachers.
As the competition for teachers shows signs of kicking into high gear, the Ripon Unified District Teachers Association member believes Ripon will start struggling to secure the best possible teaching candidates.
“All things considered if you are coming out of college and you have a huge student debt plus you need to pay for housing and a car it is going to be awful tempting to take a job that pays more regardless of how attractive a place like Ripon Unified might be,” Wright said.
Wright pointed out that beginning salaries in Ripon Unified are now among the lowest in the 209 region.
Manteca Unified — Wright noted as an example — pays higher, picks up the cost of new teacher induction programs and has lower housing costs.
He added that established teachers concerned about their finances and retirement could start jumping ship for economic reasons if the pay gap widens.
And while Wright appreciates the 8 percent pay raise for 2014-2015 — the highest in San Joaquin County — he noted Ripon Unified teachers went longer than all of the other districts without a pay raise, some seven years. Add in the fact Ripon Unified teachers were among the lowest paid back then to begin with, Wright noted they have started backsliding even more.
When compared with like-sized schools such as those in the Trans Valley League, Ripon teachers still come out near rock bottom.
Teacher Jamie DeBruyn notes Ripon Unified today has a projected general fund ending balance of $9,573,489 or just under three times what it was in 2007-08 ($3,543,035) when the Great Recession started.
During the rough times for the school district teachers agreed to take a pay cut via reduced work days going from 184 to 177 days saving the district $437,768 in fiscal year 2011-2012. That is the equivalent of a 3 percent pay cut.
That pay cut was restored several years ago.
In 2013-2014 the RUDTA agreed to a $1,500 increase to the health cap and one day added to the ending school while the district’s ending balance continued to increase going from $9,941,616 in 2012-2013 to $11,167,990.
Wright noted it has gotten to the point where it is virtually impossible for a Ripon Unified teacher to live in Ripon unless they are part of a two-income household. Even then, he added, he can count only a half dozen or so Ripon High teachers that can still afford to live in town with what they are paid.
“You lose that Mayberry touch when teachers don’t live in town,” Wright said. “I think it is important that people can talk to their child’s teacher if they run into them shopping at Save Mart or the Dollar General. It’s (interaction) you don’t get when teachers can’t afford to live in Ripon.”
The Ripon Unified board — noting a state requirement that they balance the budget three years out as well as pressing maintenance needs — have offered 3.25 percent for the 2015-2016 fiscal year that ends June 30.
The teachers have asked for a 6.25 percent raise.
For that reason the two sides are at impasse meaning an outside mediator will be brought in to settle the contract dispute.
Salaries and benefits for district’s 320 employees — including 150 teachers — constitute almost 80 percent of the current fiscal year’s $30 million spending plan.
The district’s offer for the current 2015-2016 school year — when coupled with 8 percent raises granted last school year — would provide teachers with an 11 percent increase over two years at a cost of $1,1250,000.
The nine other area districts that Ripon Unified uses to compare salaries offered between 9 to 5 percent in 2014-2015 for an average of 2.8 percent when Ripon Unified provided teachers with an 8 percent pay raise.
The nine other districts and the county office of education are offering a combined average of 7.5 percent over two years compared to 11 percent for Ripon Unified. The other districts are Manteca, Stockton, Escalon, Lincoln, Tracy, Lodi, Oakview, Lammersville, and the San Joaquin County Office of Education.
The district has settled with all other employee groups. That includes:
California School Employees Association with 2 percent on the salary schedule and 1 percent off schedule for this year and 1.5 percent on the salary schedule and 1 percent off schedule for 2016-2017.
Classified district office staff 3 percent on salary schedule and 1.5 percent off schedule for current year.
Certified itinerant 1.5 percent on salary schedule and 1 percent off schedule.
Classified management 1.5 percent on salary schedule and 1 percent off schedule.