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Teachers raise budget questions.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

"No stone unturned" might be the mantra for teachers bargaining a new contract with the Eugene School District.

At the first formal meeting between district administrators and the Eugene Education Association on Wednesday, chief union bargainer Tom DiLiberto and President Tad Shannon had plenty of questions for the district regarding what some might consider the minutiae of the proposed budget for the coming school year.

What is the district spending on professional development for teachers? Did all of the district's administrators and top managers really get the same number of unpaid furlough days as teachers and classified staff this year? How much did the district spend on a daylong gathering at the Hilton Eugene in September to welcome employees back on the job, and would they be doing it again next year?

The concern was clear. After years of wage concessions and staff reductions, teachers wanted convincing that the district is being frugal with its money - especially in light of a projected budget gap of nearly $15 million in the upcoming school year.

Students at Churchill High School took up their cause with a rally Wednesday morning that drew close to 100 youth, many carrying signs that said, among other things, "Save our teachers, find other solutions to the budget deficit."

"People are at the breaking point," union president Shannon said at the bargaining session. "They want to be assured that the district has done everything it can to keep resources in the classroom."

The district budget for the coming year won't be finalized until the state Legislature passes its 2013-15 budget, but administrators are estimating $141 million in general funds for 2013-14.

While that's more than this year's $131 million or last year's $136 million or even the $138 million of the 2010-11 school year, it's still $14.7 million short of what the district estimates it will cost to operate schools next year, district financial officer Simone Sangster said.

That's because of increasing costs, she said. Even with recent reforms to the state's Public Employees Retirement System, the Eugene district expects an additional $4.3 million in PERS costs - as well as increased costs in insurance and utilities.

Teachers - and classified staff and administrators - have agreed to givebacks in previous years.

In 2010-11, teachers took seven unpaid furlough days and half the usual 3.7 percent contractual "step" increases based on education and experience. They also received a 1 percent cost-of living increase.

In 2011-12, they got no cost-of-living increases, continued the 50 percent cut to "step" increases and took five furlough days.

This year, teachers took five furlough days, got no cost-of-living increase, but had their "step" increases fully restored. Those at the top of the pay scale not eligible for step increases received one-time stipends of $651.

The district has also spent down its reserves in recent years to help balance the budget.

Last year, the district and the union reached a speedy agreement on concessions behind closed doors, but this year's talks broke down last month, prompting formal public bargaining that's expected to continue into early June.

At Wednesday's meeting, the talks were mostly about timing and protocol, along with the raft of questions from union leaders.

While administrators were able to answer some questions - the district had spent $38,000 in teacher professional development programs titled "Learning about Learning" as of February - they promised more answers at later sessions.

As the district wrestles with funding, many employees have received word that their current jobs might not be available in the coming school year. Principals are working out staffing needs and displacement notices have warned as many as 100 teachers that they might have to split their time between schools or move to other schools or see reduced hours in the coming school year.

Actual layoff notices are still several weeks away.

The word of the possible displacements was what prompted Churchill students to rally for teachers. Juniors Selena Gregory and Selena Blick used Facebook and other social media tools to quickly organize students after learning that well-liked Churchill math teacher Scott Schirmer might not be there full-time, or at all, next year.

"Our goal is to have them cut the money somewhere else," Blick said. "Maybe in the district office, but not the teachers. That's the most important job.

DECLINING REVENUE

Wages and benefits for the past four years

2012-13: $117.9 million, 1,341 full-time equivalent employees

2011-12: $116.2 million, 1,348 full-time equivalent

2010-11: $123.4 million; 1,496 full-time equivalent

2009-10: $123.8 million; 1,520 full-time equivalent
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Title Annotation:Eugene School District; Union representatives probe Eugene School District spending at the first bargaining session
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 9, 2013
Words:763
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