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Manhattan Beach teachers negotiating for pay raise

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Teachers in the Manhattan Beach School District are hoping for a raise, the first since 2007. Photo by Alene Tchekmedyian

Teachers in the Manhattan Beach School District are hoping for a raise, the first since 2007. Photo by Alene Tchekmedyian

Rebecca Allen, 16-year Manhattan Beach teacher, stood before the School Board earlier this month and recalled her “disheartening” visit to a Coinstar machine with a huge jug of change.

“I’m not proud of the fact that I am experiencing very difficult financial times,” the Manhattan Beach Middle School science teacher said, adding that in recent years, it’s gotten tougher to make her paychecks stretch. “Things I used to be able to do without thinking – such as paying my phone bill, buying new baseball pants for my son, or making a trip to the grocery store – now often necessitate a thorough scanning of my bank statement.”

This story, she said, is not hers alone.

Dozens of teachers packed the school board chamber earlier this month to share their personal stories while presenting their initial bargaining proposal to the district and public, with requests for a salary increase at the forefront.

“It is time that a first class district offers its teachers first class compensation,” said Karl Kurz, president of the Manhattan Beach Unified Teachers Association, after which teachers in the audience clapped and cheered. He noted that teachers haven’t received a pay raise since 2007.

With the state’s current $6 billion shortfall, the district worries about exhausting its $9.5 million in reserves. “While we applaud fiscal discipline, we do not support wielding reserves of that size at the expense of adequate teacher compensation,” Kurz said. “We hope that this district and this community will care for our families’ futures as much as we have cared for the future of the children of this district.”

The district’s financial future largely depends on the November ballot – if the governor’s tax-hike initiative fails, mid-year cuts will cause the district to lose $370 per student, or $2.5 million in annual funds.

Grandview teacher Lori Desmond spoke of her colleague, a 19-year teacher, who makes $49 a month less due to the increase in health care. “Over a year, that’s $500 and if you break that down that’s 10 tanks of gas,” Desmond said.

Mira Costa junior Yuan Wang echoed the importance of good teachers. “No matter how smart a board can get, or how many G’s you put on an iPad, I don’t think there’s a question that the first party to come and offer to write a recommendation letter for an internship or job opportunity…would be the teacher,” he said.

The district and teachers’ bargaining teams entered into contract negotiations late last week.

No pink slips

No teachers were given pink slips this month. Whether or not they’re granted raises, they’ll all keep their positions next year. “I believe we’re here because we’ve been prudent with our finances,” said District Superintendent Mike Matthews. “We have prepared ourselves for these still incredibly uncertain difficulties of the California economy.”

Matthews feels confident enough not to have layoffs or request furlough days. “We will experience difficulties, but we are in far better shape than most places,” he said.

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