Despite a very bleak financial outlook that may include lower salaries, larger classrooms and furlough days, teachers in the will not be striking this year, the president of the teachers union said Thursday night.
“I’m giving you my personal guarantee that’s not going to happen,” Vicki Soderberg told parents who had gathered at the school district’s headquarters to hear news and give feedback about the fiscal year 2011-12 budget. The pronouncement was met with applause. Teachers launched a three-school-day strike last year after negotiations with the district deteriorated.
The forum gave the public a chance to ask questions and give opinions about the district’s dire financial situation. Some even offered a couple of new ideas.
Ron Lebs, deputy superintendent for business and support services, kicked off the meeting with a summary of where the school district is, something he likened to “swimming in an ocean of ambiguity—I’ve learned to dog paddle in it."
He was referring to not knowing exactly what the state budget has in store. Capo's budget deficit stands at $21.1 million, Lebs said.
Summarizing the district’s position, parent Darlynn Kitchner of Ladera Ranch said, “We’re at desperate times, and we’re at bare bones.”
Officials are considering several options to plug the $21.1-million hole—which is not easy after the district has already seen $90 million in reductions since 2006-07, Lebs said. Among this year's proposals:
- Ask employees to take a pay cut, which would save $2.7 million for every 1 percent cut.
- and in grades four to 12 (increasing by 1 student would save $3.6 million, by 2 students $7 million and a savings of $10 million for three additional students in those grades).
- Add more furlough days, which save $1.3 million per day.
A combination of all of those is likely to be employed, said Superintendent Joseph Farley. And all must be agreed to by the district’s three bargaining associations.
Farley reported that the district is just beginning its negotiations with representatives from the labor unions and will follow a tight schedule to reach agreements and get a budget before the school board by June 30.
“We have really positive relationships with our unions. They understand what we’re dealing with,” Farley said.
When a parent asked what guarantee parents have that the teachers won’t strike again, Soderberg, president of the Capistrano Unified Education Association, made her promise.
“Last year was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Soderberg said. But with a new superintendent and a newly configured school board, “.”
The teachers union heavily and successfully supported the . While at first blush it looked as if the old board managed to hold onto a 4-3 majority, in practice, the new members have been in the majority on financial matters, including restoring a number of concessions to employees. The have totaled about $9.3 million.
“I think we’ve really come a long ways,” Farley said of the district’s relationship with the employee groups. “We’ve developed the trust where we can collaboratively work out an agreement.”
The suggestions parents made included treating advanced placement classes as true college classes, with the teacher lecturing in the high schools' theaters to large groups. As in college, students would then meet with teacher assistants in a smaller setting.
“The teachers are high enough quality that they can do it,” said parent Heather Paige, whose children attend Aliso Niguel High School.
Parent Cori Preisler, who used to be a teacher in the La Cañada Unified School District, said her district handled the larger class sizes by staggering the start times “so that teachers have an opportunity to have an hour a day with half the class. I think it’s a great answer to the increased class sizes.”
After the forum, Lebs said both those ideas were new and interesting.
Meanwhile, many parents encouraged each other to contact their elected state Legislators to advocate for more funding for education.