Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2018 – 6:47 PM
By Laura Coleman
For the first time in almost 20 years, Beverly Hills Unified School District teachers have reached an impasse with the school district, leading formal bargaining negotiations to be suspended as a third-party mediator now steps in to try to achieve consensus.
“An impasse is a rare occurrence indeed,” said Beverly Hills Education Association President Telly Tse. “In my opinion, it is still early enough in the bargaining process where an amicable and sensible resolution can be achieved. We just need the district and Board of Education to join us in an honest assessment of facts and finances.”
At the heart of the impasse is the Board of Education’s desire to do away with the district’s teacher salary formula, passed four years ago, which ties raises to property taxes.
“It is important to recognize we must all work together to ensure the success of our students by attracting and retaining high caliber teachers while establishing and sustaining a financially healthy school district,” said Superintendent Michael Bregy. “Eventually, we are going to come to an agreement and I am hopeful the next steps in working with a mediator prove to be successful in the negotiations process.”
BHUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services LaTanya Kirk-Carter Latham said it was critical for the district to divest itself of this contractual obligation to increase teacher salaries in the face of BHUSD’s looming budget crisis.
Since 2014, Latham said that teachers have received a total of 14.9 percent in raises.
2014’s decision by the Board of Education to tie salary increases to property taxes was touted at the time as a way to ensure that BHUSD could attract and retain the brightest educators by offering salaries that would one day be the highest in the county. Today, BHUSD teachers are still not the highest paid in the county; nor even in the top 20.
“Now it’s time to go back to regular negotiations,” she said, adding that it was possible that teachers would strike in the absence of consensus.
The last time there was a strike in the district was 1989.
At Tuesday night’s formal Board meeting, seven BHUSD educators spoke during public comment (including teacher Alexis Crane who held her infant daughter Aurora) to advocate on behalf of the district sustaining the salary formula. Several speakers noted that the salary formula was not the reason that the district is facing its current financial problems.
Indeed, BHUSD is projecting to spend down its budget to the minimum three percent reserves required by the Los Angeles County Office Of Education in just two years. Such projections, said Latham, are why it is essential that the district immediately divest itself of its obligation to maintain the salary formula.
In addition to asking BHEA to agree to end the contract, the district offered teachers a salary increase of 3 percent for each of the next three years; an offer which was rejected due to the association’s desire to achieve ong-term substantiality and not face a repetition of years where there are no raises given, Tse said. The BHEA, which does not want to remove the current salary formula, has asked for salary increases of 6 percent for each of the next three years.
The negotiation team includes Latham, Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Dustin Seemann, Executive Director of Human Resources Luke Pavone and BHUSD’s attorney on the one side, and five teachers, including Tse, along with their labor rep on the other. The BHUSD and BHEA negotiating teams have met six times over the past seven months.
While both sides are now in the initial stages of meeting with a mediator in an attempt to reach a compromise, the mediator’s advice is in no way binding. If this stage proves a failure and mediation fails to resolve matters, a fact-finder will then be tasked with analyzing the facts of the bargaining process in an effort to offer a compromise. However, that decision, like that of the mediator, is likewise non-binding.
“We are hopeful that a resolution will be reached somewhere in this process as we believe the salary formula is sustainable and a win-win for both sides,” Tse said.