After weeks of disagreement on union proposals, negotiations between the Board of Education of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD) and the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA) regarding district budget management drew to a Tentative Agreement on March 8. The three articles up for modification in the SRVEA contract with the District — as proposed by the union — regarded hours of employment (XI), class size (XIV) and salaries (XX).
Since reaching an impasse early February, the two parties unsuccessfully underwent mediation in the latter half of the month. Negotiations then entered the fact-finding stage, in which three investigators — one appointed by SRVEA, one appointed by SRVUSD and one with a neutral third-party — would have collectively recommended a mutually beneficial course of action for both parties.
Before reaching an agreement with SRVUSD, SRVEA had considered striking in early April, with 98 percent of union members having approved the motion as of March 1. With a Tentative Agreement settled, both parties instead prepared for their respective ratification processes of the revised contract.
An introduction to the SRVUSD budget
This school year, SRVUSD received a total of $356 million in revenues and allocated $346 million in expenditures. District officials reserved the remaining difference of just under $10 million to be added to the net district balance, which, at the start of the 2019-20 school year, would stand at $64 million.
Revenues were largely gained from the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which, according to the SRVUSD, provided $268 million through a uniform base grant per unit of attendance adjusted by grade level, and a supplemental grant based on the unduplicated percentage of targeted disadvantaged students. State revenues and a governor’s grant contributed an additional $51 million, local and parcel tax revenues added $31 million, and other federal revenues gave $6 million.
Due to its low percentage of targeted students (socioeconomically disadvantaged, English learners, homeless/foster youth, students with disabilities or migrant students), SRVUSD is ranked by statewide figures as the fourth-lowest funded district in California by LCFF.
SRVUSD spokeswoman Ms. Elizabeth Graswich explained, “For every student enrolled, SRVUSD receives over $8,000. There are several neighboring districts throughout the Bay Area that receive in excess of $10,000 per student under LCFF; some even receive $20,000-plus per student.”
While relative shortage of LCFF revenues has guided the District’s spending patterns, the State of California’s Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) of 3.7 percent of the LCFF is also less than the San Ramon Valley area’s corresponding COLA. Graswich explained that SRVUSD’s “expenses for health benefits, step-and-column salary increases and pension contributions” have approached 4 percent this year, further exacerbating the District’s revenue shortfall.
SRVUSD has allocated all but $10 million of the $356 million in revenues into the following expenditure clusters: $294 million to certificated and classified salaries, including benefits; $31 million to services and operating expenditures; $13 million to books, technology and supplies and $3 million to other expenses and infrastructural investment.
Similarly, SRVUSD’s reserves are also separated into several categories. In June 2018 — before the August 2018 45-Day Revise — reserves for the following school year were set at $67 million.
Within these $67 million, $23 million were allocated for one-time spending in instructional materials, technology, professional development, declining enrollment management, mental health and capital outlay; $7 million were allocated for purposes restricted by the state; $2 million were allocated for lottery student management and $2 million were allocated for other costs. The remaining $33 million in the reserves are saved in a roughly two-to-one ratio for undesignated purposes and for economic uncertainties.
A particular statistic — the unrestricted reserve percentage — had been of central importance throughout negotiations. It’s defined as the amount in reserves not restricted by state and federal government for a specified purpose, divided by the district revenue in a particular school year — and it quantifies SRVUSD’s economic vantage point between spending and saving.
Under different interpretations, this figure may sort out to different exact values. When taking into account amounts set aside for one-time spending, lottery assignments, economic uncertainties and undesignated purposes, the figure comes out to 16.01 percent, according to the 45-Day Revise. SRVEA co-lead negotiator and DVHS math teacher Mr. Robert Gendron said that due to different counts of unrestricted reserves, SRVEA’s budget calculations have yielded an 18 percent figure.
When not including the reserves’ allocations to one-time spending and lottery assignments, the unrestricted reserve percentage as of August 2018 comes out to 8.73. For consistency, this statistic will be referred to as the “alternative” unrestricted reserve percentage.
To compare these figures to established standards, California’s Education Code and Senate Bill 799 on school finance mandate that the alternative unrestricted reserve percentage lies between 2 and 15 percent.
Regarding the unrestricted reserve percentage of 16.01, according to Graswich, “[a]s of November 2018, the average total net ending balance for all unified California school districts was 16.64 percent.” However, Gendron said that SRVEA and SRVUSD have “tentatively agreed” in the past to keep it near 8 percent.
Assistant Superintendent Keith Rogenski (left), Chief Business Officer Greg Medici (right) and the SRVUSD Board of Education discussed the Tentative Agreement at its March 26 regular meeting.
In contrast to SRVEA, SRVUSD aims to maintain a relatively higher unrestricted reserve percentage proposal because, according to Graswich, that would better secure “fiscal solvency.” More specifically, the District justifies the value based on projections of declining future enrollment and examples of previously beneficial conservative reserves.
In regard to student enrollment, since before 2000, SRVUSD has observed consistent annual growth. Davis Demographics, which creates SRVUSD’s enrollment projections based on “metrics including birth rate, mobility factors and new housing construction,” has also correctly predicted increasing future enrollment on an annual basis since June 2015.
In June 2018, however, the company predicted that the District would see a decline in enrollment by 250 students in the 2018-19 school year. Indeed, according to Graswich, SRVUSD’s enrollment dropped by “almost 400” this year, providing support for Davis Demographics’ projection of continuing enrollment decline in subsequent years.
As aforementioned, declining enrollment and hence lower attendance corresponds to less LCFF funding. Because projections of lower enrollment incur reductions in district funding, they also, in turn, discourage spending.
To further defend their stance on their reserves, SRVUSD has also cited the benefits of strong economic reserves in times of economic crisis.
“SRVUSD did not have to make draconian cuts and layoffs during the 2008-2012 Great Recession like most school districts, because SRVUSD had a strong reserve in place when the recession began in 2008,” Graswich pointed out.
According to SRVEA’s March 11 presentation of the Tentative Agreement to its general membership, district management originally offered a 1.82 percent salary raise and 0.18 percent allocation for the Retiree Healthcare Trust with no contract changes to hours of employment (Article XI) and student-to-staff ratios (XIV).
Contrary to SRVUSD’s desire to allocate more revenues for its reserves, if ratified, SRVEA’s central motions will all increase expenditures and detract from reserves.
Protesting with SRVEA support, over 100 Dougherty Valley High School teachers gathered in unity in the campus quad during lunch break on Feb. 28.
As part of the negotiations process, SRVEA proposed modifications to Articles XX, XI and XIV in hopes of achieving a salary increase to accommodate for inflation, reworked hours of employment and improved student-to-staff ratios and teacher caseload caps. In line with its goal of enhancing student support, SRVEA placed particular emphasis on Article XIV.
The annual fall and winter negotiations of the 2017-18 school year did not involve salary raises. At that time, according to SRVEA Vice President Ms. Laura Finco, the union wanted to focus on bargaining in support of “counseling, librarians, nurses [and] smaller class sizes.” However, district-wide discourse regarding SRVUSD’s Personal Learning Initiatives discouraged SRVEA from spending greater efforts on negotiations.
But this school year, SRVEA asked for a 5 percent salary raise: 2 percent to account for last year and another 3 percent for this year. The total corresponded to $11 million in salary commitments retroactive to July 2018.
While the District had approved a 3 percent raise, it was unwilling to finance both this and SRVEA’s request for an extension of student resources. These opposing proposals created conflict at the heart of the negotiations.
Gendron explained, “[The district management] says, ‘You can either get compensated or you can do these other things.’ So we have to take a pay cut if we want to have smaller class sizes and nurses and more librarians.”
According to multiple SRVEA members, negotiations of this nature have occurred for several years now.
“One year, we did negotiate class size down one … So I went from 28-to-1 to 27-to-1, which is just a ratio. And then the next year when we were trying to negotiate a salary increase, they wanted us to give back the class size,” DVHS site representative, former SRVEA negotiator and librarian Ms. Kerri Knapp stated. “We said, ‘No,’ and it worked out in students’ favor. But it’s like every time we get a step forward, there’s a step back.”
One of SRVEA’s key beliefs had been that the District’s unrestricted reserve of 18 percent is sufficient to fund both the requested salary raises and additional student resources. The union claimed that conservatism with expenditures comes at the expense of potential student benefits, reasoning that current reserves far exceed the base amount necessary in the case of a financial crisis.
“The teachers’ union is very comfortable with an 8 percent reserve. We can see that you can go definitely go four times as much [as the state-mandated reserve] … but to have nine times more money than what you need, that’s not necessary,” Finco said. “That’s keeping students [from] getting the services that they need.”
Knapp also acknowledged the District’s sense of fiscal responsibility but claimed that it fails to consider current students.
“The school board does have the responsibility to make sure that the district stays financially solvent. That’s absolutely a priority for them and it should be,” she said. “However, 18 percent reserves are taxpayer dollars that should be spent on our students now. What kind of a rainy day are they waiting for that we [would] need 18 percent reserves?”
Refuting the District’s caution over declining enrollment, SRVEA argued that such trends would actually lead to a decline in the current magnitude of infrastructure, thus compensating for the funding deficit. In other words, as future student enrollment declines, so would staff numbers.
“When there’s declining enrollment, there’s also temporary teachers and other employees that won’t be hired back. There’s also people that retire that won’t be replaced,” Gendron clarified. “[The funding] works out.”
In further assessing SRVUSD’s reasoning of declining enrollment, history teacher Mr. Jeffrey Vangene claimed that projections are often founded on data that indicates declining populations of younger students. However, he said, they may not account for students moving into the area.
“We do also get additional students that come from other outside areas,” he said. “It’s those students that have always been off of the [SRVUSD] projection.”
Despite fervent contention regarding these budgetary allocations, after nearly 19 hours of negotiation over two days, SRVEA and SRVUSD found common ground regarding contract modifications.
Introduced at its March 11 general membership meeting, SRVEA’s ratification voting processes lasted until March 14, when it was announced that the revised contract had won 97.6 percent approval.
On March 8, SRVEA and SRVUSD reached a Tentative Agreement after finally concurring on modifications to Article XIV, which addresses class sizes and student-to-staff ratios for counselors, librarians and nurses; caseload maximums, including those for secondary teachers and master scheduling. The modifications to Article XIV were accepted by SRVUSD as initially proposed by SRVEA, with no attached contingencies.
Specifically, counselor-to-student ratios will decrease from 1-to-500 to 1-to-400 in high schools and from 1-to-700 to 1-to-650 in middle schools, a second librarian will be placed in schools with over 2,500 students and the nurse-to-student ratio now rests at 1-to-3,000.
Additionally, secondary caseload caps have been designated at 165 student contacts per teacher at high schools and 192 at middle schools (the performing arts and physical education departments are exceptions). The secondary PE class size maximum has also been set at 50 students.
According to a joint SRVEA-SRVUSD press release, changes to Article XI include an “extended work year and revised salary schedule” for school nurses and speech language pathologists as well as “extended preparation time for elementary teachers.” If ratified, changes to Articles XI and XIV from the Tentative Agreement are to be effective starting next school year.
Also, a March 6 agreement on Article XX is to grant a 4 percent salary enhancement retroactive to July 2018.
After the Tentative Agreement was presented to the SRVEA general membership on March 11, ratification voting took place at members’ respective work sites until March 14. An end count tallied 1,532 “yes” votes out of 1,570 total, meaning 97.6 percent approval by 93 percent of SRVEA members.
At its March 26 meeting, the SRVUSD Board of Education also voted to ratify the revised contract.
Expressing optimism about the Tentative Agreement’s impact on future negotiations, Knapp said, “[The negotiations] are absolutely a step in the right direction … [They’re] a victory in terms of changing the way that we negotiate into a much more collaborative learning environment.”
Citing neutrality, the DVHS Parent Teacher Association has declined to comment on the 2018-19 negotiations.
Contributions from Riya Bindlish, Harshita Neralla, Amruta Baradwaj, Ronit Kumar, Sarah Kim and Caroline Lobel.
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