As budget improves, Folsom Cordova Unified gives employees 5 percent bonuses

As K-12 districts begin seeing more state money, nearly 2,000 employees in Folsom Cordova schools will receive one-time bonus checks next month equal to 5 percent of pay.

District officials and labor leaders said Wednesday the checks recognize years of furloughs and forgone cost-of-living increases.

The unanimous decision by Folsom Cordova Unified School District trustees at their Feb. 6 meeting means that employees on the payroll as of that date will receive extra checks the second week in March worth a combined $5.3 million.

The payments, reached through collective bargaining, go to all district employees. That includes about 900 teachers and other certificated workers such as nurses and counselors. It also includes about 900 classified workers, such as instructional assistants, bus drivers and maintenance staff. Administrators also will receive bonuses, including Folsom Cordova Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt, who stands to receive a onetime check greater than $10,000.

Bettencourt, who this year earns $221,500, said she hopes the district can do more for workers next year.

“I fully expect that next year we should be able to offer an ongoing raise,” Bettencourt said. “I think that’s important to know because our employees are a priority for us.”

Workers lost a total of 9-12 days of pay in recent years through furloughs and have not had cost-of-living increases since 2008-09, Bettencourt said. The 5 percent bonuses, she said, are about equal to the income lost due to past furloughs.

Employees continue to receive raises based on years worked and experience, and the district is not imposing furloughs this year.

The pay boost comes as Folsom Cordova and other districts have begun receiving more money from the state after a 2012 voter-approved tax hike and a surge in capital gains tax revenues. Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers have approved a multi-year plan to increase school funding through a new Local Control Funding Formula, which is intended to direct money to low-income students and English-language learners.

The state formula provided Folsom Cordova a $5.1 million increase this school year toward the district’s $146 million budget.

Bettencourt said the $5.3 million cost of the bonuses will come from funds the district set aside as a reserve. “Now that the board knows the local control funding formula is in place, they can spend these one-time dollars,” she said.

Jon Coupal, who opposed Proposition 30 as president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he sees the one-time payments as preferable to pay raises.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Coupal said. But he added that a district “in a position to grant a one-time pay bump in recognition of some of the foregone pay increases in the past I can see that that might not offend the sensitivities of taxpayers very much.”

Last year, Folsom Cordova received a “qualified” warning from the state, meaning that budget projections indicated the district might not meet its financial obligations over a three-year period. The state has not yet updated its warning list, but Bettencourt said the district has firmed up its ongoing budget enough to shed that designation.

“Now with this new revenue from (the statewide tax hike) Proposition 30, we are able to say we have enough ongoing revenue to match our current expenditures,” the superintendent said. “That’s a positive for us. That’s a big change.”

Labor leaders said while they are pleased with the bonuses, the onetime checks don’t approach the losses employees racked up in recent years.

“We’re grateful,” said Michael Itkoff, president of the Folsom Cordova Education Association, which represents teachers and other certificated employees. But, he said, “it’s wholly inadequate to make up for the costs that the employees have had to incur over the last six years.”

Besides income losses through furloughs, he said, employees bore the cost of soaring monthly medical premiums. “The district did not absorb any of the increases that the medical providers passed on each year,” Itkoff said.

Rob Thomas, president of the California School Employees Association Chapter 528, representing the district’s classified workers, said in an email that the employees have endured a tough period that included wage freezes and layoffs as well as furloughs and higher medical costs.

“Our families have lost ground financially each of the past several years,” he said. “So we are happy to get a modest one-time 5 percent bonus. We hope that moving forward there will be a meaningful cost-of-living increase to help classified employees and their families make some progress toward take-home pay that resembles (that of) seven years ago.”

The district has about 1,950 employees, and the large majority of those are full-time. The district today has the equivalent of about 100 fewer full-time employees than in 2009.