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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Teachers in Ventura Press for 11% Pay Hike

Salaries: Demand comes after impasse is declared. Educators in Moorpark are voting on a new package this week.

November 15, 2000|ANNA GORMAN and TRACI ISAACS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hundreds of Ventura teachers demanded higher pay at a board meeting Tuesday night after declaring an impasse this week in their negotiations for a new labor contract.

Meanwhile, Moorpark teachers are voting this week on a tentative offer to increase pay and benefits, capping months of negotiations and an emotional protest at a recent school board meeting.

With millions of unencumbered state dollars available this year, administrators in several districts in Ventura County have negotiated double-digit raises with teachers.

Fillmore trustees approved a 14.6% increase this year, Pleasant Valley Elementary gave teachers a 10.52% raise, and Oak Park Unified board members granted teachers a 10.97% pay hike.

Gov. Gray Davis set aside $1.8 billion in unrestricted funds for districts throughout California, money that many teachers unions say should go directly into raising salaries. In several districts, however, teachers have had to fight for pay hikes, battling with administrators who want to spend some of the money on programs.

Ventura's teachers are asking for an 11% raise retroactive to July 1. The district is offering 10%, which would not take effect until Feb. 1. The impasse has prompted the union to ask a state mediator to help teachers reach an agreement with district administrators.

Without the higher percentage, teacher salaries in the Ventura Unified School District won't be competitive, said Steve Blum, president of the teachers association.

"If we fall further back, the teachers are going to leave," he said.

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Blum said teachers and administrators in Ventura have traditionally had good relations, but this year's talks have "taken a negative tone," he said. "Instead of negotiating, it's come down to arguing and accusing."

The Ventura teachers union, which has about 850 members, urged teachers to show up at Tuesday night's board meeting.

Nearly 300 teachers, wearing red, crowded into the City Hall chambers to show their support for higher salaries.

"These are the people you seem determined to make the lowest-paid teachers in Ventura County," Blum said.

Christi Pilon, a special-education teacher at Cabrillo Middle School, said she knows several veteran teachers who are considering leaving the district.

"They can go next door and make $10,000 more a year," said Pilon, who is on the negotiating team. "It's a crime to lose these good teachers."

Assistant Supt. Jerry Dannenberg said that giving teachers an 11% raise would require the district to make substantial cuts, such as slashing budgets for supplies, reducing the district office budget, increasing class sizes or reducing the number of assistant principals.

"We don't think the cuts are realistic," Dannenberg said. "And we think they would affect students' learning and possible student safety."

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Dannenberg said the district is committed to having high teacher salaries, but has its hands tied because it has to pay $3.5 million each year in lifetime retirement benefits to more than 600 retired teachers.

"The employees want higher salaries right now, but that's a bill we have to pay right now," he said. "We can't give them what we don't have."

The two sides are scheduled to meet with a mediator at the beginning of December, Dannenberg said.

Across the county in Moorpark, the tentative agreement calls for an 11% hike for teachers with one to four years of experience, a 9% raise for those with five to 13 years, and between 9.25% and 10% for educators with 15 or more years. In addition, all teachers would get a 1.6% increase in health benefits.

If the union's nearly 400 members approve the agreement, the raise would become the largest received in the district in at least a decade, said Guy Aronoff, president of Moorpark's teachers union.

Aronoff expects union members to approve the contract by Friday; the school board is expected to vote on the pact Nov. 28.

More than 100 sign-toting teachers and supporters converged on the school board's Oct. 25 meeting hoping to speed up union negotiations. Teachers talked about long working hours, low pay and a fear that district officials would spend the state money on something other than salaries.

"We knew they wanted at least a 10% raise," school board member David Pollock said. "We worked with them by allowing our reserve to go up in increments, even though I'm sure all the board members would feel better if we had the full amount."

For Aronoff, a 13-year teacher, the new contract would add roughly $5,200 to his annual income of about $60,000.

"It's certainly an improvement," he said. But he added that he would like Moorpark teachers' salaries to be among the top in the county.

For about half the district's teachers, those with fewer than 10 years of experience, Aronoff said the average raise would be around $3,800.

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Gorman is a Times staff writer; Isaacs is a correspondent.

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