Teacher union, school district, declare impasse

The Mammoth Unified School District issued a press release Thursday stating after months of negotiations with the teachers’ association, it and the Mammoth Education Association have jointly decided to declare impasse in their negotiations. 

“Like all school districts throughout the state, Mammoth Unified has been forced to make deep budget cuts, which significantly compromises its ability to satisfy the teachers’ requests,” the press release stated.  

“By declaring impasse, the state will assign our district an objective, informed mediator who will review the parties’ proposals, listen to the concerns we have with our district’s budget and—I hope—help us reach an agreement,” said Rich Boccia, superintendent of schools. “Our intent is that this process will bring closure to negotiations, as we are running out of time.  And, given that we are just days from the start of school, I know that our teachers and this community would like to see all of us return our full attention to the students.”

According to the press release, the district was required to present the Mono County Office of Education with a three-year budget on June 30, a budget that was required to accommodate the state’s fiscal situation, including ongoing cuts to public education. 

“When presented to the county, the district’s budget had to contain all operating and budget projections and show how the district intends to maintain solvency across three school years. 

“To help maintain programs and services for students while accommodating these budget cuts, the district has a reserve of 29 percent. Given the projected funding cuts to education and the district’s estimated operational costs, without structural changes being made to the manner in which we provide services, the district’s reserve will be reduced to 11 percent by the 2013-14 school year, and will show a negative 3 percent balance by 2014-15 school year, the third year out,” the press release stated.
This reserve is creating a negotiations sticking point.

“I understand that a 29 percent reserve sounds like a pot of gold, but the simple truth is that these funds would barely cover four months of the district’s operational costs,” said Boccia. “I would be a failed leader if I allowed the district to allocate this finite amount of money to an ongoing expense, such as employees’ benefits or salaries.”

According to the release, Ron Bennett, President and CEO of School Services of California, the leader in California school finance, has informed the district that because Mammoth Unified is a small basic aid district, it should have a 33 to 38 percent reserve, to address potential financial shortfalls.

“Pretending that you can cover an ongoing cost with one-time money would be a sure way to devastate this district and our community, who trust us to manage their tax dollars prudently and with an eye on our shared mission, which is service to students.”

The district’s total annual operating budget is approximately $12,000,000, according to the press release. It must identify $800,000 in cuts for the 2012-13 year, plus an additional $500,000 if the Governor’s November tax initiative fails. Further, the district is looking at future deficits of $1,100,000 in 2013-14 and $1,800,000 in 2014-15.

The Board of Education has set forth two key guiding points for negotiations.  First, they believe that these cuts must be a shared responsibility across the entire organization. Second, the district must not dismiss or marginalize its responsibility to provide all students with programs that will help ensure that they can compete in the 21st century.

To the first point, the Board of Education took action to reduce classified positions, including custodial, maintenance, food services and instructional aides, by $165,000 (see P.1).   Additionally, the district has achieved $86,000 through attrition. 

According to the press release, the district is asking for the teachers’ union to assist in addressing the budget shortfalls in the form of furloughs and a health benefits cap.  And to the second point, the district is striving to help maintain positions, programs, and services to meet the needs of students and help protect jobs.

Currently, the district’s employee health benefits package costs the district approximately $20,000 for a family annual coverage.  

“At a time when this nation, state and our region face record unemployment numbers, it is imprudent to use our diminishing budgets to cover increasing benefits costs,” Boccia said. “This budget line item must be contained, there is no reasonable business alternative.

“Employee frustration and anxiety over these discussions is understandable,” he said.  “Everyone in education works so hard to meet the needs of our kids; however, we did not create this situation. The state’s dire fiscal situation has placed the ugly reality of budget cuts on the doorstep of fire and police departments, hospitals and schools and universities throughout the state.  We did not create this bad economy, but we are certainly left with the responsibility of helping to clean it up.”