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School Board Backs Salary Hike for Teachers but Delays Final Vote

By Jorge Casuso

November 17 – The School Board voted Thursday night to delay ratifying a new contract for teachers until January, giving district officials time to craft a plan to pay for the 5 percent pay hike.

The delay would buy time to gather input from the community on the cuts and cost savings needed to pay for the pay raise, which would all but deplete the district’s nearly $7.3 million in reserves over the next three years.

All but one board member – teacher Shane McCloud – expressed confidence the money will be found, and teachers union president Harry Keiley said he expected teachers would not object to giving the board more time to ratify the contract, which goes into effect retroactively as of July 1.

“I believe the agreement is the best for all our students,” said School Board member Julia Brownley, who will leave the board next month to fill the State Assembly seat she won November 7. “I do believe at the end of the day we can come forward in a win-win situation.”

“I stand by the 5 percent,” said Board President Emily Bloomfield. “I think we will get people to a very high level of comfort… without a lot of pain and sacrifice.”

“The most effective use of our resources is in the classroom,” said Board member Oscar de la Torre, who along with Bloomfield was reelected last week. “In the end, we’re going to come to the conclusion that this is the best decision we can make for our students.”

But McCloud, who failed in his bid for a second term, was far less confident about the district’s ability to pay for the raise and warned that it could “erode public credibility.”

“I’m very concerned about this commitment, that we won’t be able to afford it after the second year unless we make drastic changes to the budget,” said McCloud, who has been a teacher for ten years.

Those changes could include scrapping plans for reducing class sizes in “struggling schools,” such as Samoh and John Adams Middle School, where a third of all the classes have more than 32 students.

“I know the board wants to reduce class size,” McCloud said. “We won’t be able to count on that with this increase.”

McCloud also warned that politics has played, and will continue to play a role in the relations between the board and the Santa Monica Malibu Teachers Association.

He noted that the union did not throw its weight behind Prop BB -- the successful $268 million bond to renovate and repair the district’s aging schools -- until the tentative agreement was reached three weeks before the November 7 election.

And he warned that board members would be seeking the union’s endorsement in the 2008 race for three open seats shortly after the two-year contract expires.

“It’s difficult to ask for your endorsement when we’re voting on a contract,” he said.

McCloud, who sat at the center of the dais for his final meeting, had some parting words.

“I’m sorry I’m going out in a negative way,” he said. “I did not go public with these issues during the election. I did not want to jeopardize the passage of the bond.”

Bloomfield quickly countered, saying that the teachers had “come forward and (done) the right thing without a pay increase,” and that over the years, teachers’ salaries had increased an average of only 2.6 percent annually.

“I really commend our teachers for doing a lot with nothing,” she said. “I’m sorry if I sounded offended, but I am.”

Thursday’s discussion came two days after the Finance Oversight Committee expressed strong reservations that district officials had hammered out a tentative agreement without a plan to pay for the increase. (see story)

By delaying a vote to ratify the agreement -- which was certified by Superintendent Dianne Talarico, but not by the district’s Chief Business Official Winston Braham – the board will submit a funding plan to the County Office of Education that does not include the salary increases.

After gathering input at a public workshop next month, the district will submit a “recovery plan” outlining how the salary raise would be paid for.

The plan could include everything from cutting back on the purchase of books and supplies and changing the teachers’ health care plans to revamping bus routes and freezing all hiring, according to a “treatment” offered by Braham.



“I think we will get people to a very high level of comfort." Emily Bloomfield


“I’m very concerned about this commitment, that we won’t be able to afford it." Shane McCloud

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