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Early in contract negotiations, Vista Unified educators have requested more support resources and teachers from the district. File photo
Early in contract negotiations, Vista Unified educators have requested more support resources and teachers from the district. File photo
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Vista teachers request more student support resources in early contract talks

VISTA — Rounding out Teachers Appreciation Week, educators in Vista defended their ask in ongoing contract negotiations.

Following an extended closed session on May 5, the Vista Unified School District Board of Education listened as Vista Teachers Association members emotionally advocated for support resources and those needed to hire teachers.

The board left with a stack of letters responding to its proposal — which bumps up the special education caseload and does not include a cost of living adjustment.

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the teacher’s union and school district, each is allowed to bring forward two contract points in addition to salary and benefits before April 15 each year. Union members (representing teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors and psychologists) and the district will have the opportunity to address the letters at the May 18 negotiation meeting.

“It’s still early in the process,” Board President Cipriano Vargas told The Coast News.

Negotiation sessions started earlier this year after the district made its contract points public during a board meeting on April 7. The district listed revisions to stipend schedules and mitigation efforts to any changes those may have on benefits; changes to regular teacher substitute compensation and language regarding a teacher’s discretion to reject the assignment and total number of teaching periods; propose adjustments to junior and high school student contacts with faculty; negotiations for the process of special education caseloads that are signed at the discretion of an administrator.

The Vista Teachers Association is wary of the district’s proposal, reporting the proposal removes educators’ ability to refuse subbing during prep periods, to take on extra students and the ability to decline signing waivers to go over caseload in the special education program.

“Unfortunately, we can see the narrative,” stated an April bargaining update from the Vista Teachers Association to its members. “Educators need to give more, help more, take on more students, sub if there isn’t coverage, [and] with no salary increase…No additional prep time and no increase to benefits. It is a one-way street. We give, and they take.”

The Vista Teachers Association proposal includes removing Monday morning meetings, a spruced benefits package and a 6% salary increase for teachers. This proposal would also shift salary schedules to reach the highest earnings at 25 years rather than 30.

The Vista Teachers Association is not the only contract the district will work through in the coming months.

Supporting students in the classroom

While salary is a big-ticket item, the balance on the table this year is teacher time and student opportunity to learn from a qualified instructor.

The district said its proposal reflects “innovative ways” to provide equitable education despite declining enrollment, according to a May 6 media release from Superintendent Matt Doyle’s office.

However, educators argue that the district proposal isn’t strong enough to attract new, qualified teachers to stay in Vista schools — which could inhibit learning altogether.

There are currently 57 faculty and staff retiring from the district, with a few more trickling in, according to Assistant Superintendent Rachel D’Ambroso. She said this is not an above-average nor an abnormal number of retirees in one year.

However, Jill Frank-Aldrich, the science chair at Rancho Buena Vista High School, said her department alone was losing 33 percent of her staff, or four teachers. She is concerned about the quality of learning for her students.

Frank-Aldrich needs something from the district to fill these positions, she said, even posting job openings sooner than what’s currently allowed.

“Is there a commitment by Vista Unified to attract and retain teachers? Because the zero percent offer is not going to do it,” Frank-Aldrich asked, “the increasing class size is not going to do it, imposing on planning time is limited resources will not do it.

“So, when I’m trying to interview and hire new teachers, I need something from Vista Unified to help me hire new people.”

Other educators expressed their concerns about filling positions but also asked the student-to-teacher ratio be reconsidered.

“How is adding more students to our rooms going to be beneficial for students learning,” asked Jessica Cairns, a teacher at Rancho Buena Vista High School. “In fact, we should be doing the opposite.”

Others expressed that the district’s proposal was harmful to students because it affected their class time. Teachers would substitute for a substitute teacher in that proposition, as Vista Unified is short on these contracted employees.

“The district feels it is important to ensure that our certificated teaching staff is the first available for students that might not have a staff member present due to absences to support teaching and learning,” according to the district release.

Cairns said that hiring qualified teachers to replace retiring teachers is crucial for students to make a genuine connection with the material.

“Overall, the proposal you’ve given to the teachers of Vista is nothing short of a slap in the face,” Cairns said.

The speakers said that the pandemic was challenging to navigate for educators and students and impacted overall learning.

However, teacher dedication did not waver.

“We have worked tirelessly, not just during the pandemic, but year after year to give an excellent education to our kids,”  Cairns said. “We deserve more to have than to have everything taken away with nothing given in return.”

Competitive salaries despite no increase

The district is proud of that “financial health and stability” to prioritize all its employees, the release from the superintendent’s office stated. Last year, Vista Unified passed a 3.5% salary increase with additional benefits.

“The District is also mindful of maintaining fiscal stability with enrollment declining and additional COVID money expiring,” according to a Vista Unified School District public release on April 12. “Therefore, the District does not plan to present a salary or benefits proposal at this time.”

Teachers are paid based on years of experience and education.

According to its salary schedule for 2021-2022, first-year teachers with a bachelor’s and no additional coursework earn $52,075 at Vista Unified.

San Marcos Unified School District offered $43,129 to new teachers in 2021.

“We have always prided ourselves on having competitive salaries,” Vargas said. “We have a history of competitive salaries, and we are going to try to keep doing that moving forward.”

Vargas said the board is dedicated to its employees, all of them.

A new teacher’s highest possible salary is $61,396, so long as they meet the minimum continued education requirement. A teacher with only a bachelor’s degree with no intention of additional hours will peak at $59,122 in year six, even if they reach the 30-year mark.

The Vista Unified School District base pay for the highest education levels is $109,148, which would be made in year 30.

A mid-range teacher — one with a bachelor’s degree and 30 semester hours — will peak at $79,132 in their 11th year of teaching until year 17, when the salary jumps to $87,318 annually for the next few years.

In other districts, the highest qualified personnel’s salary peaks at 27 years, compared to Vista’s 30-year mark.

San Marcos Unified pays its highest earners $109,036 base pay for a bachelor’s degree plus 75 semester hours.

One chemistry teacher at Mission Vista High School decided to research school district salaries on her own.

Stacy McGuire compared 30 salary metrics (including pensions and daily earnings) from school districts in San Marcos, Escondido, Oceanside, Poway and Carlsbad  — she found eight instances where Vista paid more to its teachers. She fears that Vista’s salaries may not be as competitive as they appear.

“Vista Unified teachers are being paid significantly fewer lifetime earnings than the other districts,” she said. “On average, Oceanside teachers earn 10% more in a lifetime, Carlsbad teachers earn 18% more in a lifetime and San Marcos earns 16% more than Vista teachers in a lifetime.”

She continued, calling out “egregious differences” in the teacher pay scale. When comparing wage step increases for teachers with a bachelor’s to those with 15 additional semester hours, McGuire found other districts paid anywhere from 18% to 45% more.

“I trusted Vista when they repeatedly stated that their pay was competitive, but through verification, it is abundantly obvious that teachers are making fewer lifetime earnings and the majority of neighboring districts,” McGuire said, calling on the Ronald Regan quote to trust, but be sure.

“I trusted, I verified, but you guys lied,” she said.

The board argues teachers and students are at the forefront of the budget — and that previous salary increases have been more than fair.

Between 2019 and 2022, staff and faculty received a 7.57% salary increase. The district also claims it offered the highest total salary increases among all the school districts in San Diego County — totaling 30 percent since 2012.

“Throughout the county, Vista [Unified School District] ranks the highest in spending on instruction and nearly last — second to last — in spending on administrative positions among unified districts,” the media release stated. “To be clear, we keep teaching and learning as our top priority across all our resource allocation.”

The board stressed that it was still early in the negation process and that both parties are committed to competitive salaries and collective goals.

Superintendent’s new contract

The Vista school board briskly approved a different salary during last week’s meeting.

Doyle extended his contract one year to 2024, tacking on a salary restoration package. The board of education amended his salary from $260,000 to $300,000 base annual pay.

This would be the first raise that Doyle would receive since taking office three years ago.

“Since starting as superintendent, he has taken on more work without any discussion of an increase to his compensation,” Vargas explained. “And during that time, our employees did earn significant salary increases.”

In 2018, Vista’s former superintendent, Linda Kimble, was one of the top 10 highest-paid superintendents in San Diego County.

According to a report by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Kimble, who was placed on leave from the school district in September 2019, received a $281,000 base salary, $4,000 in other pay, and $54,755 in benefits, for a combined total of $339,755.

The district served more than 24,000 students in that year.

According to the California Department of Education’s accountability report card for 2019-2020, unified school superintendents earn an average of $260,243 when average daily attendance counts are between 10,000 and 20,000. Superintendents in the largest school district in California on average, make more than $297,000 annually.

In 2021, then-Superintendent Cynthia Marten at San Diego Unified made a base pay of $290,907 — with salary and benefits totaling $365,007 for the year, according to Transparent California.

Transparent California is a free database of civil salaries provided by the California Policy Center and the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Last month, that board approved a four-year contract with a $375,000 annual salary for its new superintendent, Lamont Jackson.

San Diego Unified School District has an average daily attendance of 113,214. Vista Unified had 19,437 in 2020-21.

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