The Public Eye: Sacramento-area school employees get pay raises – often retroactively

08/09/2014 11:29 PM

08/11/2014 6:48 PM

Sacramento-area school districts have begun giving teachers pay raises and bonuses, often retroactively, as they receive more funding from the state.

Twin Rivers Unified, Elk Grove Unified and El Dorado Union High are among the many local school districts that have negotiated raises with their unions that reach back to last year or beyond. The pay hikes are on top of the “step-and-column” increases traditionally given to educators annually based on their years of service and level of education.

The raises come after a 2012 voter-approved tax hike and a multiyear state plan to increase school funding through a new formula intended to direct money to low-income students and English-language learners.

District leaders say they are paying back their employees for accepting furloughs, pay freezes and larger class sizes during a recessionary wave of state budget cuts that began in 2009.

“Employees all over the state of California have sacrificed because we are state-funded,” said Bill McGuire, deputy superintendent at Twin Rivers Unified. “The loss in state funding resulted in loss of compensation for employees. The last five years in education were a difficult time.”

In May, Twin Rivers officials gave teachers lump-sum checks equal to 4 percent of their salaries. Half the payment was a bonus, and the other half served as a retroactive pay raise, McGuire said. Bus drivers, secretaries and other support staff received a 2 percent pay raise retroactive to 2013-14 and a one-time bonus of 2.25 percent. The payout cost $4.9 million.

The teachers will receive another 2 percent raise this school year and again in 2015-16. Likewise, support staff will see 2.56 percent raises this year and next, according to paperwork filed with the County Office of Education.

Rebecca DeLoux teaches at Twin Rivers’ Noralto Avenue Elementary School. She said teachers “definitely deserve” a raise, and many in Twin Rivers Unified were disappointed that it was only 2 percent.

“During financially hard times we were willing to take on furloughs and to pay more for our benefits,” she said. “They said when financial times were better they would do right by the teachers.”

Twin Rivers employees were furloughed for between 16 and 17.5 days during state budget cuts. DeLoux, a single parent, said the furlough days were a hardship.

“It was very difficult,” she said. “You hoped your car didn’t break down, and you hoped there weren’t any unexpected expenses.”

El Dorado Union High School District trustees voted Dec. 10 to give a 5.25 percent pay raise to teachers and support staff retroactive to July 2013. Administrators received a 5 percent raise and the superintendent a 4.5 percent raise. The district last gave its staff a 1.5 percent increase in 2011-12 with the understanding the district would not provide raises in 2012-13, said Superintendent Christopher Hoffman.

Hoffman said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more salary hikes this year when the district and union renegotiate their contract.

“Our employees bit the bullet during difficult times,” he said. “We will be as fair as we can.”

The high school district with 6,850 students in El Dorado County was able to avoid furloughs altogether during the recession. Instead, class sizes increased from 30 to 32 students, allowing the district to reduce its workforce through attrition.

Elsewhere, the region’s largest school district – Elk Grove Unified – agreed in January to give its union-represented employees a retroactive raise of 2.7 percent for the 2013-14 school year.

Natomas Unified didn’t offer retroactive pay but gave employees one of the largest pay bumps among local school districts. District staff negotiated a 6 percent pay boost, 1.5 percent bonus and an additional $1,000 annually toward health care for each of the next two years. Natomas also will increase the hourly rate for teachers working overtime from $26 to $40 an hour.

Teachers will work an additional 50 minutes per day at middle schools and an extra 17 minutes per day in first through third grade, as well as transitional kindergarten.

New funding allowed the district to “increase compensation for our dedicated staff while laying the groundwork to expand student programs and services,” said Jim Sanders, district spokesman.

The compensation increases will boost Natomas Unified’s annual payroll for its 760 union-represented employees by $4.6 million in 2014-15 and $4.2 million in 2015-16.

In May, Superintendent Chris Evans said the increased pay will help the district recruit top talent for vacant positions. He said the higher hourly rate for overtime will “create more incentive for (teachers) to tutor or participate in extended-day opportunities that are a higher priority for students and parents.”

Neither Sacramento City Unified nor San Juan Unified offered raises above the prescribed “step-and-column” increases for 2013-14. Both districts are negotiating contracts with their teachers unions.

“I think when the economy got bad for schools, teachers gave,” said Nikki Milevsky, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association. “We worked our tails off to get better funding for schools, and we’re looking for some help now for ourselves now that things are a little better ... to replenish some of the givebacks we’ve given.”

Editor’s note: A chart accompanying this article was updated Aug. 11 to note that the 5 percent increase at Folsom Cordova Unified was a one-time payment, while the Twin Rivers Unified increase of 4 percent was split between one-time bonus and pay hike.

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