A tentative agreement has been reached between the teachers union and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) for a five percent salary increase for teachers in the district.

The agreement was discussed at the school board meeting Thursday, November 16th, and formal action on the agreement scheduled for the next board meeting, Thursday, December 14th, may be delayed.

If there are no legal issues, action will be delayed by the board until January to give school officials time to “intelligently plan” how to fund the salary increase in a “more fiscally prudent” manner.

Members of the district’s Financial Oversight Committee and others are concerned about how the district will pay for the salary increase, as it would exhaust the district’s reserves and potentially put the district into a deficit starting in three years.

The tentative agreement cannot be supported by available revenues without substantial changes and budget cuts, some believe.

“Much more careful attention should have been focused on how to pay for this,” said Paul Silvern, chair of the Financial Oversight Committee for the district.

Silvern — along with several others — recommended that, if the tentative agreement is not changed, the district should delay taking action or ratifying the tentative bargaining agreement until January.

“It would give you more time to formulate a recovery plan,” said Silvern.

Chris Harding, a lawyer who served on the district’s Financial Oversight Committee for five years, also expressed his concern about the tentative agreement creating a “potential budget crisis.”

“Although we all support fair compensation for district teachers, the proposed settlement threatens the financial stability of the district,” Harding said.

Harding also recommended deferring any action on the tentative agreement until January to make some “informed judgments” and he said that all district documents bearing upon the tentative agreement should be released to the public.

“You have time to fix it,” Harding said.

But Superintendent Dianne Talarico and all members of the school board except teacher Shane McLoud spoke with confidence in support of the agreement at the meeting.

So did Harry Keiley, president of the teachers union.

Keiley said he appreciated the willingness of people to come forth with their concerns, but insisted that the tentative agreement “was reached in good faith by both parties.”

“The union is fully aware that we have limited resources,” Keiley said. “We can work together to ensure funding of this agreement is met.”

Keiley called the five percent salary increase for teachers a “responsible and respectable, well deserved and much needed salary increase.”

Keiley also pointed out that, for 2006-07, the governor and state legislature passed a budget on time and fully funded public schools under Proposition 98.

“How is the district going to pay for this?” Keiley asked. “They are going to pay for the pay raise with the dollars that have been provided by the state and its cost of living adjustment of 5.9 percent.”

Keiley said the Santa Monica-Malibu district is one of the top public systems in California “and our teachers deserve to be compensated in a manner that respects the professionals that they are.”

Talarico agreed, saying that teacher salaries must be competitive.

“It is my heartfelt recommendation to move forward with the tentative agreement, whether it be in December or [delayed to] January,” she said. “Our teachers deserve it and so do our children.”

“If the district needs some additional time to complete paperwork, we understand [a delay in ratification of the agreement],” Keiley said.

School board president Julia Brownley said she believes the five percent salary increase for teachers is the biggest and best investment the district could make for its students and teachers.

Board member Jose Escarce expressed the importance of recruiting, retaining and recognizing teachers. He said he had performed some personal research and reported to the board that, of 30 local districts, the five percent Santa Monica-Malibu raise increase was “on the lower end.”

“Our district needs to retain the best teachers,” he said. “It’s very acceptable and a tentative agreement we should be proud of. A five percent raise is really reasonable and justified.”

McLoud said it was ironic that he was opposed to the agreement, because he is a teacher himself, but he said he was “very concerned about the contract for many reasons.”

McLoud said he was concerned about the district’s ability to pay for the raise starting in the third year and he thinks the agreement “may erode public credibility.”

Board member Emily Bloomfield pointed out that the district’s teachers had come forward and done “the right thing without a pay increase” in previous years.

“I really commend our teachers for doing a lot with nothing,” she said. “I stand by the five percent.”

In 2005-06, out of Los Angeles County’s 47 school districts, when the Santa Monica-Malibu district gave teachers a three percent salary increase, “26 districts received pay raises higher than we did,” Keiley said.

“The whole debate about teacher salaries is really about ‘How are we going to attract and retain the best and the brightest teachers to Santa Monica-Malibu public schools?’

“Our students deserve the best and most qualified teachers we can provide. One of the ways you attract and retain employees is you provide them with a competitive compensation package. It’s one of the most important ways that we can attract and retain high-quality teachers.”

A public workshop on the pay increase — where school officials will be able to receive input from outside legal counsel — is to take place in early December at a date to be announced by the district.

NEXT STEPS FOR

BOND MEASURE BB

At the meeting, Talarico thanked the public for supporting Proposition BB, the district’s $268 million Safety and Repair bond measure that passed in the November 7th election.

The measure is designed to “improve health, safety and class instruction by repairing, renovating outdated classrooms, bathrooms, plumbing, leaky roofs, computer technology, [and] fire safety equipment” in district schools, among other things.

One requirement of the measure is that performance and financial audits be performed yearly and that an independent Citizens Oversight Committee monitor all bond expenditures.

“I do want people to know that the next step for us is the formation of the oversight committee,” Talarico said.

She said that the district would “take a look at the health and safety issues” at all the district’s schools and determine the priorities.

In December, the school board will convene for a bond spending procedure workshop for Measure BB, where board members will be advised by a team of experts as to next steps.

Talarico also reported that she has now visited all the district’s schools at least once.

“I just want you to know how proud we all should be about the things going on in our district,” Talarico said.

NEW DIRECTOR OF

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Ruth Valadez was appointed as the district’s new director of special education at the meeting.

Valadez has 25 years of experience in special education and has bachelor’s degrees in special education and general education from George Washington University, as well as master’s degrees in special education and education administration from American University.

Her start date with the district is Monday, December 4th.

“I’m excited to be here,” Valadez said. “I’m excited to start work. It’s a fantastic district.”

Valadez is coming from the East Whittier City School District, where she has worked for eight years as director of special education.

Previously, she worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 11 years and also in Washington, D.C. public schools.

“She brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position and has been successful in designing programs and implementing curriculum that addresses the needs of the special education populations,” said deputy superintendent Tim Walker. “I am delighted to have Ruth join our team and am excited about her beginning her tenure.

“I know that she will be a strong leader who will continue the growth that we have made in the area of Special Education in SMMUSD.”

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