Nearly $40 million in new state money is at stake in the coming year, and Ventura County teachers and administrators agree on this: There will be a fight at the bargaining table.
Teachers vow to push for their share to increase salaries, but administrators want to ensure that there is enough left over to pay for special education, technology and transportation programs.
"If they don't want to use that money for teacher salaries, there is going to be a huge battle," said Hal Vick, executive director of the teachers unions in both Simi Valley and Conejo Valley. "We believe that it's our money. We're the ones who went to Sacramento and fought for it."
District officials say boosting teacher pay is indeed a priority--higher salaries lure qualified teachers, and more of them. But as administrators, they also have other priorities, such as renovating antiquated buildings and restoring music and performing arts programs that were axed during repeated budget cuts of the 1980s.
"It could lead to adversarial negotiations," said Assistant Supt. David Gomez of the Oxnard Elementary School District. "If all the money coming from the state goes to teacher salaries, what happens to all these other programs?"
All but three districts in the county--Santa Paula, Oxnard and Rio Elementary--have finished their salary negotiations this year, with most agreeing to pay increases of between 3% and 8%. Though some districts have multiyear labor agreements, the contracts allow for renegotiation. So in the fall, salaries will again be discussed.
Gov. Gray Davis set aside $1.84 billion in unrestricted, ongoing funds for California schools in his revised budget proposal released earlier this month. If legislators approve that budget, Ventura County school districts would receive an extra $285 to $355 per student.
Based on that formula, campuses in the Conejo Valley and Simi Valley school districts would receive $6 million; Ventura schools, $5.2 million; Oxnard's high schools, $5 million; and Oxnard's elementary and junior high schools, $4.4 million.
Though the California Legislature has been giving schools more funding in recent years, most of that money has been earmarked for specific programs, such as reducing class sizes or ensuring school safety.
This is the first time in more than a decade that districts have been given so much money without any strings attached, educators said. Consequently, union leaders statewide say they expect salary increases of up to 10% in the 2000-01 school year.
Salaries for beginning teachers in most of Ventura County's 20 school districts exceed the state average of $29,000, but pay varies widely. New teachers in Thousand Oaks receive $35,519, but new teachers in Ventura make $32,464, and in Fillmore, $29,279.
Salaries are mainly driven by attendance; schools get a certain amount from the state per child. But in more affluent areas, districts receive so much money from property taxes that they rely on less state money.
Santa Paula teachers said they asked for more money when they returned to the bargaining table last Thursday.
"We're not asking for the sky," said Carolyn Ishida, chief negotiator for the Santa Paula Federation of Teachers. The governor's funds, she said, should make the district "loosen their purse strings a little more."
Mia Emhardt, the federation's president, anticipates that most unions will face a battle when they reopen negotiations on their contracts and attempt to cut up the funding pie. Emhardt said she's optimistic that the district will give her members more money.
"But how much we get will be left up to a great and lengthy discussion," she said. "I don't think it is going to happen overnight."
In El Rio, negotiations resumed last week. District officials hope to have a contract ratified soon, but know that it may be a while. Administrators and union members said they believe a struggle over the new money will not occur until next year.
Negotiations in Oxnard resume June 11 and have been contentious so far, with a state mediator being called in and more than 100 teachers crowding a school board meeting last month demanding 4% raises.
Most Ventura County administrators said they want to spend some of the new state funds on other district needs, ranging from books to bathrooms. Simi Valley wants to improve art and music programs. High schools in Oxnard and Camarillo plan to hire reading teachers. Rio Elementary wants to pay for transportation and playgrounds. And Conejo Valley Unified administrators say they want to hire counselors at the elementary schools where there are none.