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Rowe teachers set to negotiate with school board

RANCHO SANTA FE — At the March 7 school district board meeting, a group of about 25 teachers showed their support for the R. Roger Rowe Faculty Association as it gets set to enter into another round of negotiations with the district over pay and benefits. One by one the teachers took turns saying their names and how long they’ve taught at the school. Fifth grade teacher Stephen Riviere has taught there15 years. He addressed the board during public comment.

“I’m part of a uniquely smart group that works extremely hard to create an experience for the children that is remarkable,” Riviere said. He points out the school’s high Academic Performance Index scores, which he said realtors use to sell homes. “What I really want the board to recognize is how we help the community.”

But teachers at Rowe haven’t had a raise in three years, Riviere said, and the district’s “lack of participation” in covering health care costs will likely be a sticking point for many of them.

Although the district contributes about $600 monthly toward the cost of each employee’s health care costs, according to Riviere, it isn’t enough to keep financially strapped educators in the black.

“As a teacher, leading a single-income family, being asked to pay more than a third of my salary (for health care costs) is more than it should be,” he said.

However, the trend in California is toward employers shifting health costs onto school district employees and away from districts. According to a 2012 study on school district finance by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, 17 percent of California districts reduced employer contributions to employee health benefits in 2011-12.

Still Riviere thinks it’s important that the district improve how it financially rewards teachers for their increasing levels of productivity.

But Superintendent Lindy Delaney said times have been tough. The district relies heavily on property taxes, Delaney said, and those have decreased.

“We’ve had a decline in our budget, from $10.4 million to $8.9 million,” she said. “There have been foreclosures, houses haven’t been selling. People have revalued their houses so they don’t pay as much tax. All of that has come into play.”

Delaney also said that it’s a misnomer to say that the teachers didn’t get an increase in compensation for three years.

“Last year 75 percent of our staff received an increase,” Delaney said, referring to step-and-column increases.

“We’ve been fortunate here because we have a good working relationship with our faculty association,” she said. “We do have a lot of respect for our teachers and what they do. So we will sit down at their request probably in a week or two and begin negotiations.”