The initial contract proposal made by the Santa Monica- Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association (SMMCTA) union for the 2006-2007 school year was presented at the board of education meeting Thursday, July 27th, and received with much disappointment by the union. The proposal does not mention any increase in teacher salaries.

“To say I was disappointed was an understatement,” said Harry Keiley, president of the teachers union. “It [this initial proposal] is perceived to be an attack against our teachers and our union. I became pessimistic for the first time in a very long time.”

The overall state budget for kindergarten through 12th grade increased over $5 billion, which gives “significant increased funding to our district,” Keiley said.

However, even with the budget increase, there was no mention of teacher salaries as there has been in past negotiations, something Keiley said was “common practice.” Additionally, there was no mention of an increase in compensation in the initial proposal, as there has been in past negotiations, Keiley said.

“The SMMCTA executive board interpreted that to mean a freeze in teacher salaries,” Keiley said. “It just didn’t make sense. In a time when the state is providing significant ongoing dollars to our school district, we would hope that the board of education and the administration would embrace the need to provide teachers with a compensation package that is respectful and truly values the hard work of teachers.”

Keiley said he and the teachers union executive board were disappointed for other reasons, also.

Keiley said he believes that some proposed provisions would increase the workload of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District teachers.

Additionally, the initial proposal made reference to putting a cap on teacher health benefits, a concern to the teachers union executive board and many teachers across the district.

“Our teachers have said their top priority is the protection of their health care,” Keiley said. “We want to protect and retain a quality healthcare plan.”

In response to the teachers union executive board’s concern about no mention of a salary increase for teachers in the district, Julia Brownley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board, spoke.

“This is not what the board is proposing as a freeze on salary,” Brownley said at the meeting. “I hope that we can air some of this. I would like to understand it.”

“Our concerns are really around the need to be able to attract and retain high-quality teachers and to have the highest qualified teachers in front of our students,” Keiley said. “We believe it’s critical we have stability. We’re going to have to address the issue of teacher com- pensation.”

Over the past three years, there has been significant teacher turnover in the district, Keiley said, noting that it’s not good for the students.

“We need the district to show that they clearly value our teachers,” Keiley said.

Jenny Lipson, a teacher for 13 years at Grant Elementary School and secretary of the teachers union, expressed her disappointment at the school board meeting.

Lipson said she thought the initial proposal “was a disgrace.”

“We hope we’re just misunderstanding this proposal,” Lipson said.

Sarah Braff, a 19-year teacher and member of the elementary executive board of the teachers union, also expressed her disappointment.

“What I always hear is that board members support our teachers,” Braff said. “We’re not feeling that support. Your sincerity has to be questioned. I’ve become very, very concerned.”

Braff also noted that the initial proposal said nothing of improving teacher salaries and she felt that the teachers union had been left out of discussions.

In response, Brownley said that it was the intention of the board to work with the union.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll have a collaborative effort,” Brownley said. “The teachers in this district are highly regarded by this board.”

Initial bargaining sessions will probably begin within the next two weeks, Keiley said.

“It’s our hope and desire to reach a contract settlement with the district in an appropriate amount of time so focus can be on our students and classrooms,” Keiley said.