Sacramento teachers approve contract. County chief tells district to find cuts to pay for it

Sacramento city school teachers ratified a three-year contract late Monday after the district avoided a strike last month by agreeing to increase pay and work toward improving classroom conditions.

The district’s work is not finished, however.

Sacramento County schools chief David Gordon warned last week that the new contract would push the district’s reserves so low in two years that Sacramento City Unified must propose new cuts to avoid being placed on the state’s early financial warning list.

The three-year contract, which began retroactively in the 2016-17 school year, will cost the district an estimated $25.7 million, said district spokesman Alex Barrios. That would leave the district $4 million in the hole and without the required 2 percent reserve by 2019-20, Gordon told The Bee.

Last week, Gordon told the Sacramento City Unified school board that by next month it would have to adopt $15.6 million in budget cuts for 2019-20 if the district wants to avoid financial warning territory.

“They need to avoid falling into a structural deficit,” Gordon said. “They are paying for the increase in large part from their reserves.”

District officials are working on finding cuts, Barrios said. The district will have the flexibility to change the plan as needed.

“We take it very seriously,” Barrios said. “We have to make critical decisions to decrease costs. Bottom line, we have to cut costs or decrease spending or a combination of the two.”

Teachers overwhelmingly voted to approve the contract, with 98.1 percent of the nearly 1,600 who voted over the last week saying yes to the agreement, according to John Borsos, executive director of the Sacramento City Teachers Association. The Sacramento City Unified school board approved the contract last week.

As county superintendent, Gordon reviews each school district’s budget annually and after employee contract changes. He provides annual reports to the state, projecting each district’s financial stability three years out. Gordon relies on numbers provided by the district for his assessments.

That’s the problem, Borsos said. He said the district’s projections are too fiscally conservative, forecasting deficits and then ending up with surpluses, he said.

He argued that the district is underestimating the future strength of its financial situation. Enrollment has stabilized, with a number of residential projects planned that will bring additional students and revenue into the district, he said. The new McKinley Village and Delta Shores developments are within district boundaries.

“The district remains in the best financial position they have been in in their history,” he said.

The new deal will give teachers a 2.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2016 and another 2.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1 of this year. A third 2.5 percent raise will come July 1, 2018.

The contract includes an additional 3.5 percent increase to parts of the salary schedule that will take effect in the third year of the contract, starting next July. That change is aimed at boosting pay for mid-career teachers, whose compensation has lagged that of peers in three comparable area districts, even when generous health benefits are accounted for.

Some recent agreements include adding two more psychologists to district staff, increasing the doctorate degree stipend form $1,161 to $3,000 and increasing athletic stipends by $552, according the new contract.

One significant change would boost pay for experienced teachers who move to the district. The old contract capped their starting pay at nine years of experience. The new contract credits teachers for their actual work experience.

The new contract also allows the district to hire teachers earlier in the year to better compete with other districts and adds preparation time for athletic directors and special education teachers.

The final contract does not include specific language addressing some of the key elements touted by the teachers union during negotiations – smaller class sizes and more arts and music teachers, goals that were popular among parents.

District officials have said that package – estimated to cost $87 million – was too expensive and instead agreed to work with the teachers union to effect health savings that could be used for class-size reduction. Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who helped broker the final contract, agreed to help place a measure on the 2020 ballot that would fund arts and music programs.

Luther Burbank High School teacher John Perryman said he voted against the contract because it does not address class-size reduction, a goal he felt was primary to the strike threat.

“The agreement makes a good faith effort to address secondary issues, but fails to address the core issues that made me (and many other teachers) angry enough to strike,” Perryman said in an email.

Perryman said he blamed district administrators who won’t spend more reserves on students.

“SCTA probably did the best in this area that they could – an unrealistic promise for health care savings to fund class-size reductions,” he wrote. “Given SCTA’s failure, it will be up to the community to make the school board do the right thing and spend the reserve money on low-income, non-proficient students. Or maybe a lawsuit by affected families.”

Hasan McWhorter, a social science teacher at The Met Sacramento High School, took part in contract negotiations. He voted for the contract and said it was a good deal, although he would have liked to have seen the union get more of what it wanted.

“But sometimes we have to take what we think is best and do the best we can,” he said.

He said going on strike would have hurt kids.

“By working that out, we were able to save many days of instruction for students.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert