The Coast News Group
The Rancho Santa Fe School District building.
The Rancho Santa Fe School District building. File photo
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Pay doesn’t reflect increased workloads, RSF teachers say

RANCHO SANTA FE — Amid ongoing labor negotiations, Rancho Santa Fe teachers told district trustees April 15 that faculty deserve better compensation, especially due to the demands of adapting to COVID-19.

“Given the pandemic, we know concessions have to be made,” said middle school teacher Elaine Dolnack at last week’s school board meeting. But workload additions “left us physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed and discouraged.”

For instance, “using their own time,” teachers had to learn and troubleshoot new learning software, she said.

“My colleagues and I were bombarded with emails from (the administration), asking us to, in their words, ‘slug it out’ and not call in sick if at all possible due to (substitute teacher) shortages,” said middle school teacher Heidi Moreno.

A teachers’ representative declined to furnish these emails. But Superintendent Donna Tripi didn’t refute Moreno’s assertion, when The Coast News asked about its veracity.

“We always encourage and support our teachers taking time as needed if they are not well,” Tripi said. “The board proactively approved additional sick leave for teachers this year due to COVID-19.”

“Please extend the gratitude you have shown to the superintendent to include the teachers,” middle school teacher Terri Corduan told trustees.

Last summer, trustees amended Tripi’s employment agreement, renewing her term set to expire in 2021 to 2023 and boosting her pay from $190,000 to $205,000 — an 8% increase.

The board made its decision “after a review of [Tripi’s] performance and an evaluation of surrounding superintendents’ salaries,” said Trustee Kali Kim.

The district has offered teachers a one-time 2% “bonus” rather than a permanent raise, said middle school teacher Lori Edwards. “For a teacher that earns $80,000 a year … this translates to $133 a month. Take away taxes, we have a few trips to the gas station.”

“(When) many employees in a variety of fields are receiving hazard pay or incentives to work in person, we are not even being given the respect of (a permanent) raise,” said elementary school teacher Lauren Hapanowicz. A one-time bump “would not help us accumulate wages that reflect the (inflationary cost of living increase) every year.”

Middle school teacher Joy Mendoza pointed to higher pay in the Solana Beach and Del Mar school districts.

The majority of Rancho Santa Fe teachers fall between the 6-year and 15-year pay steps for certificated staff holding a master’s degree, Tripi told The Coast News. For the 10-year pay step with a master’s, Rancho Santa Fe differs from Solana Beach and Del Mar by 1.5% and 6%, respectively, she said.

The divergence tends to widen for more senior teachers. For instance, a 26-year Rancho Santa Fe teacher with a master’s degree would make about $103,000, compared to $114,000 in Solana Beach — an 11% difference.

Answering those who would say, “if you’re not happy you can you can go somewhere else,” 19-year elementary school teacher Jennifer Olson said: “Most districts (let) you take five years of service with you. … I don’t think anyone could afford to take that kind of hit ….”

“The Board continually reviews our salary schedule to ensure that we offer fair and competitive compensation,” Tripi said, citing “15.5% in total raises over the past five school years” and a 4% raise last year.

In the round of negotiations currently underway, “the Faculty Association initially proposed an 8% increase to the salary schedule over two years,” Tripi said. The district countered with “a 2% (one-time) payment for the 2020-2021 school year. The Faculty Association has not responded yet to the district’s proposal, but the parties are scheduled to meet again this week.”

Trustees, other than Kim, didn’t respond to requests for comment.