VSALEXIQUE – Everyone is wondering if the Associated Calexico Teachers union will ratify the tentative agreement it reached with the Calexico Unified School District last week with the help of a mediator.
The fact that some union members were unhappy with the agreement was highlighted. The proposed contract offers a 25.5% salary increase over a three-year period covering the 2020-21 to 2022-23 school years, but omits any retroactive payments for recent retirees.
Yet despite the obvious dissatisfaction of these ACT members, there appears to be a collective resignation that the tentative agreement represents the best deal the union can expect from the district, particularly in light of reports that have recently come to light. additional monetary grants by the district. could render it insolvent.
The roughly 500 union members were due to vote on the tentative agreement over a two-day period ending Wednesday, May 18. Ratification requires 50% plus one vote of the total votes cast.
Despite his own doubts about the proposed deal, ACT President Xavier Rodriguez said he preferred not to reveal exactly how he intended to vote.
His role throughout the year-long contract negotiations was to update union members on the progress or regression underway, as the momentum at times seemed to Rodriguez to waver. With the proposed deal itself, he said his job was to present members with all the facts so they could vote on which they felt the tentative agreement was best for them.
“We will definitely get an answer on the feelings of the members,” he said in a phone interview on Tuesday, May 17.
Although the tentative agreement is called historic, Yulil Alonso-Garza, an English teacher at Enrique Camarena High School, said she couldn’t help but view it in less glowing terms.
“While as a current member of the ACT I am pleased that we are now receiving a belated and well-deserved raise, it is disappointing to see that the CUSD has ignored retirees from previous years and has now put retirees current 2022 students able to cancel their retirement in order to receive the 17% salary increase, Alonso-Garza said in a text message on Tuesday, May 17.
Some of the unhappy sentiments of ACT members were also exposed during the public comment period at the CUSD board meeting on May 12.
Bob Nelson, a teacher at Calexico High, told the CUSD board that he felt “disgusted by this whole offer.” His anger was particularly provoked by the fact that the tentative agreement had canceled retroactive salary payments for ACT members who retired before the 2019-20 school year.
“What about their service?” Nelson, a 22-year veteran of the district, asked. “They dedicated their whole career, their whole life to it. And they get nothing in return.
And while the proposed deal offers a cumulative 25.5% salary increase on schedule, the bulk of that increase, 17%, isn’t expected to kick in until July 1, which is the final year. of the three-year agreement.
The timing of the proposed 17% pay rise doesn’t help employees who were looking for a more immediate monetary boost, Nelson said.
“I have never felt so disgusted and angry about teaching at Calexico with a group of council members like you,” Nelson told the four council members present. President Lorenzo Calderon Jr. was absent from the meeting.
The teachers’ union has been operating without a contract for two years and has not received a cost of living adjustment for nearly five years.
Ricky Guzman, a Calexico High teacher and ACT negotiator, also chastised the board and district for the terms of the proposed contract and the extended time it took for both parties to reach a tentative agreement.
He alleged that the district’s intention was to drag out the negotiations and the investigation process as long as possible. He further argued that his assessment was supported by remarks from the neutral party who had been appointed by the Employment Public Relations Commission to assist with the investigative side of the stalled contract negotiations.
As unpleasant as the whole experience was for ACT negotiators, it also proved to be instructive, Guzman said. Going forward, union negotiators will no longer simply assume that the district intends to bargain in good faith.
“We’re going to keep asking questions and we’re going to be like hawks,” Guzman said.
Following the ratification vote by ACT members, which include teachers, counsellors, nurses and psychologists, the CUSD Board of Directors is expected to discuss and possibly approve the proposed agreement at its regular meeting. of May 26.
During the May 12 board meeting, various directors expressed their appreciation that a tentative agreement had been reached. Administrators Richard Romero, Margarita Magallanes and Enrique Alvarado thanked ACT negotiators for their efforts. The latter two also thanked the district negotiators for their help.
Administrator Ciro Calderon said the agreement in principle was slow to arrive and was absolutely necessary.
“This neighborhood can’t function without its employees and employees being happy,” Calderon said. “I am happy that we are working towards an agreement. I hope it will be ratified for the best.
Past and present contract proposals
If ratified by both ACT members and the CUSD board, the tentative agreement provides for a timely 25.5% salary increase for ACT members .
The salary increase would be implemented in increments of 5% for the 2020-21 school year, 3.5% for the 2021-22 school year and 17.5% for the 2022-23 school year.
The tentative agreement represents the district’s seventh offer of timely payments. Its initial offer proposed a 7% increase spread over the 2017-18 and 2019-20 school years.
At one point, the district had proposed a timely 6% salary increase, phased in 2% increments over three years.
The difference between the 6% proposal and the 25.5% proposal is about $20,000 per year, according to information the ACT executive board presented to its members during a virtual meeting on May 11. .
The Calexico Unified School District is the only major local public district where its highest-paid certified employees earn no more than $100,000 a year, the ACT executive board presentation said.
The currently proposed 25.5% salary increase would raise the overall compensation of CUSD’s most senior certified staff from last to fourth on a list of six of the largest local school districts.
This estimated annual compensation of about $122,000 for an ACT member with more than 15 years of employment would be greater than the amount that the El Centro Elementary and Imperial Unified school districts pay teachers with similar tenures, but less than the $139,000 that the Brawley Elementary School District pays out to its most senior certified staff each year.
Calexico High teacher Norma Sierra Galindo said the tentative agreement was about 90% of what ACT members had been fighting for all along.
Yet the way the negotiations have unfolded reflects the district’s utter disregard for the teachers’ union and collective bargaining, she said.
“If they had thought through the process carefully and had any respect for the workforce, they would have negotiated in good faith in a fraction of the time it took,” Sierra Galindo said.
On the other hand, she was full of praise for the ACT negotiators who “held on” and prevailed.
As part of the tentative agreement, eligible ACT members can also receive a one-time, off-schedule payment of between $2,000 and $20,000, depending on years of service. The proposed one-time payments would also be made available to eligible certified retirees from the 2019-20 school year through the 2022-23 school year, the district said.
The proposed agreement contains no mention of retroactive salary payments for ACT members dating back to the 2017-2018 school year.
A matter of (potential) insolvency
The district was forced to rescind such a proposed retroactive payment after determining that it did not have the funds to do so.
The proposed payments became a non-starter after the district ratified a contract with its California School Employees Association Chapter 399, which represents its classified staff.
This agreement covers the four years between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2022 and provides for a cumulative salary increase of 18.5% and a one-time payment of 2%.
Its total cost to the district would be about $10 million, with ongoing costs of $3 million for each of the next two school years, according to an April 26 letter the Imperial County Office of Education reported. sent to the CUSD Board of Directors and the Acting Superintendent. Brian Thurman.
The letter, from the chief commercial officer of ICOE Business Services, also stated that the CSEA agreement would contribute to a deficit growth of $15 million for the current school year, $11 million next year and $14 million. million in 2023-24.
“Based on these factors, it clearly shows that the district would not be able to meet the state’s minimum reserve level and would close with a projected NEGATIVE of 4.95% over the course of the year. fiscal year 23/24, unless significant spending cuts are made by the district,” the letter said.
“We caution the District to consider the proposed compensation package on the District’s growing deficit and reserve levels and the potential additional pressure if other employee groups were to settle for a similar deal.”