By Talia Soglin
Last Tuesday, the Alameda Unified School District and the Alameda Education Association signed a tentative agreement regarding teacher salaries and benefits. AEA, the teacher’s union in Alameda, and AUSD had previously declared an impasse in negotiations on June 1.
Under the tentative agreement, teachers would receive a 3.7% salary increase for the 2016-17 school year, 0.59% of which would be reallocated from their dental benefits. Also included in the agreement are stipulations for reduced kindergarten class sizes, increased flexibility in the use of leave time, and the creation of three new committees, one of which would research ways to bring AUSD salaries in line with the county average. Alameda teachers are currently paid the second lowest salaries in Alameda county.
AEA members and AUSD’s Board of Education will each vote on the agreement in the following weeks. The tentative agreement comes after AEA and AUSD jointly declared an impasse in negotiations on June 1.
The district’s June 1 offer to teachers, which AEA rejected, included a 0.5% raise for the 2016-17 school year, a 2% raise for the 2017-18 school year, and a 2.1% increase in the amount the district contributes to the State Teacher Retirement Fund, or pensions.
In a press release issued by the district on June 2, superintendent Sean McPhetridge said, “Our perspectives on salaries are so far apart that we all agreed we need outside help to come to a mutually beneficial resolution.” When an impasse is reached, an arbitrator is typically called in to help mediate between the two sides.
However, AUSD and AEA were able to reach the tentative agreement when they met again on June 7, after the School Board directed the district to invite the union back to the bargaining table.
Tensions between AEA and the district have been running high, fueled primarily by salary conflicts.
Teachers are frustrated by a lack of pay raises and the fact that Alameda teachers earn lower salaries than teachers in every other district in the county, with the exception of Oakland Unified School District.
Jessica Downs, an education specialist and a union representative at Alameda High, said that teachers want “respect in the form of higher salaries and more voice in decisions being made by the district.” Downs describes the district as being “somewhat responsive” to teachers’ concerns.
Tony Manno, who teaches AP US History at Alameda High and is uninvolved with union negotiations, says teachers are “low in priority from the School Board and the superintendent.”
“Supposedly one of the parcel tax’s purposes was to attract and retain good teachers and it doesn’t feel like the money’s been used that way,” he adds, noting that many young teachers are leaving the district, in part because they cannot afford to live in the city in which they work.
“The thing that keeps us here is that the kids are so great,” Manno says. ”They prey on our softness and worries about the kids.”
Joining teacher representatives at the bargaining table were AUSD representatives and administrative representatives.
AHS principal Robert Ithurburn, who is involved in negotiations, says his main concerns are “That we are fair, consistent, and that we make sure that we try to maintain the balance of serving students and compensating teachers without putting the district in financial hardship.”
Susan Davis, who is the Senior Manager of Community Affairs for the district, echoes Ithurburn’s concerns: “The primary concern is how to increase teacher salary while maintaining the district’s financial solvency,” she says. “If we commit to paying teachers more than we can afford, we risk being taken over by the state.”
Ithurburn notes that there were a number of points at which AEA and the district were able to improve upon, citing school choice for employees’ children and teacher leave days as examples. “The one point where things slowed down was around salary,” he says.
AUSD was previously classified as a “low wealth” district, meaning that it received less funding per student than other school districts, in part because an old funding formula took into account the naval base on the island’s West End despite the fact that AUSD no longer received military funding.
In 2013, the California state legislature passed a new funding formula, known as the Local Control Funding Formula. Davis says that under the new formula, the amount of base funding AUSD receives per student is on par with other districts.
However, she notes that the LCFF provides additional funding for students who are low-income, English Language Learners, or foster youth. “Districts whose percentage of those students is greater than 55% receive a ‘concentration grant’ equal to 50% of their base funding,” she says.
Davis adds, “AUSD’s percentage of these students is about 35%, so we receive less state funding now than districts such as SFUSD or Oakland.”
On top of that, Davis says, wealthier districts like Piedmont and Berkeley have “much higher parcel taxes” than AUSD.
AEA members will vote on the tentative agreement through June 15. The Board of Education will vote at its meeting on June 28.
Breaking news June 16: AEA voted not to ratify the contract so the tentative agreement failed, according to teachers at Alameda High School.