Tension gives way to tentative deal for RBUSD teachers, staff
by Garth Meyer
Redondo Unified School District and its teachers and classified staff have reached a tentative agreement for a six percent pay raise.
The three-year deal, including other features, came after 12 separate negotiating sessions since June, four school board closed sessions and contentious public input at the board’s Oct. 10 and Oct. 24 meetings, with an apology at the latter from Board President Rachel Silverman-Nemeth.
The contracts, if approved, put the district into deficit spending, tapping into its reserve.
“It is important to note that while this agreement keeps our classified staff (and teachers) among the best compensated employees in the area, and provides a structure to continue to do so, it comes at a considerable cost to the district’s budget,” Nick Stephany, RBUSD assistant superintendent, human resources, wrote in an Oct. 27 letter to classified employees.
He added that, since the district is in a period of declining enrollment, it will receive less money in future years.
As part of the deal, a later start to the school year also was negotiated – up to Aug. 21, from a week earlier.
Board president Silverman-Nemeth’s apology followed remarks at the Oct. 10 meeting that she felt “attacked.”
“We are on your side. We see you and we value you. I spoke out of emotion last week. My comments came out of frustration at the fact that negotiations had not been completed,” she said Oct. 24. “We have now reached a tentative agreement that includes a well-deserved raise… I hope we can recommit to a civil discourse moving forward.”
Redondo Beach Teachers Association (RBTA) President Merlan Land, a math teacher at Adams Middle School, told the board she was “very excited” that a tentative agreement was reached. Sharon Medina, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) chapter president, said in public comment that, “I never felt so disrespected in the 27 years I’ve worked for the district. You’re not hearing that we’re crying for help.”
The AFT has yet to reach a deal, though only one negotiating session has been held. Another is set for next Monday.
Boardmember Raymur Flinn spoke, in answer to Medina.
“We do appreciate you, tremendously. We see you, we see all the hard work that you’re doing,” Flinn said, noting the challenge they have as boardmembers. “The reserve exists, to protect jobs, bottom line.”
Stephany pointed out that this is the largest salary increase for classified (and teachers) since 2015.
“RBUSD has increased our salaries more than almost every other school district in the South Bay over the last 11 years. In fact, RBUSD increased salaries by 35.51% in that time, only trailing Hawthorne School District.”
Other parts of the teachers’ deal include two less days of professional development per year – to instead use that time to plan and prepare for class, and an increased stipend for large class sizes. Also, a new advisory committee was formed for special education.
Stephany said he expects an AFT agreement soon. The process slowed to see how the salary negotiations came out for the other two unions.
“I understand the district has only so much they can do. We’re just in different times,” said AFT President Medina, who represents employees of the district’s Child Development Center. “With inflation being so, so high, and our insurance rate going up 8.5 percent, it’s hitting all of us hard. A single digit increase wouldn’t make much of a difference in our finances, especially as most of our members are part-time.”
Would six percent be agreeable?
“We are going to go into (the next) negotiations with the original number we had in mind,” she said. “… If we’re stressed out as educators about (finances), it affects our mental health and we can’t (be at our best) for the kids, who need so much more in social-emotional support now… It’s a different time. It’s a very different time in education.”
Counter to declining enrollment
While this round of contract negotiations nears the end, the focus to bring in more students to the Redondo district remains.
“You have to hustle, TK (transitional kindergarten), K (kindergarten), if we get them early, we believe they’ll be with us for the next 12 years,” Stephany said. “It’s going to be a full-court press… It takes all of us: teachers, administrators, and the important work of our classified staff to keep our schools great. We must continue to work together to remain a top district.”
Why is enrollment declining?
“Younger families are having a hard time moving here,” Stephany said, referring to affordability.
He noted that Hermosa Beach has all-day kindergarten and Redondo will add it next year.
With the classifieds contract vote set for Nov. 7, at the district maintenance and operations building, and the teachers voting online for their contract, a verdict on both is expected by next Tuesday’s board meeting.
“I’m hopeful the contracts will be ratified,” Stephany said. “I hope that this turns out a positive because we really did try to get them as much money as we could.”
Classified staff studies
Included in the process for the classified contract, Redondo Unified conducted a study of other districts and identified nine jobs that needed raises to reach the median. In the new deal, these will get a salary adjustment beyond the six percent. More than half of classified employees get an eight percent ongoing “salary improvement.”
Also, the district Compensation Committee will now evaluate salaries of at least four jobs each year, starting with maintenance and operations and instructional aides – to make recommendations for 2024-25.
(While contracts run three years, salary may be re-opened for negotiation each year).
A committee will also be formed to consider stipends for instructional aides for higher-need students.
The district continues to offer professional development. In addition to $100,000 from a grant awarded last December that Supt. Wesley wrote, Stephany said RBUSD is already committed to classified employees wanting to earn bachelor’s degrees and teaching credentials.
Classified may also work with SOCAL ROC and South Bay Adult School to get certified in welding, HVAC and/or child development. All of this is free for the employee.
“We’re trying to upscale our classified staff. From listening, they really want upward mobility,” Stephany said, noting how RBUSD workers are paid more with HVAC certification, for example.
“This agreement attempts to provide not only immediate solutions, but a path forward to resolve all the concerns we have heard in recent months.”
Comments to the board
In the lead-up to the eventual agreements, RBUSD staff gave much public comment to the board.
A 22-year district elementary teacher said that, “We’re working for free…”
Kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Allen, union site representative for Madison Elementary, said they were asking for a contract to account for a rising cost of living.
Classified employee Susan Jimenez, a library media technician said, “Many of us are treading water, some are drowning… In 15 years, my salary has increased eight dollars.”
“We all know the district has more reserves than necessary,” she continued.
Madison Elementary teacher Amy Pulanco noted that, “last year we were given four percent increases, but it wasn’t enough to sustain life today.”
Mark Lewis, instructional assistant at Madison said, “We don’t make enough to live here.”
Ilana Fous, a Lincoln Elementary teacher, referred to an “unprecedented rise in the cost of living.”
“While none of us has gotten into this profession for the money, we do depend on our paychecks to survive,” she said.
Medina, the 27-year Redondo Unified veteran and AFT president, said she has three jobs now.
“We keep saying we are the best district in the South Bay, then pay us as such,” she said. “… United we stand, divided we fall. United we stand, divided we fall! United we stand, divided we fall!”
Late in the Oct. 10 meeting, after most of the teachers and classified staff had left, the agenda arrived at boardmember updates, for which Silverman-Nemeth spoke first.
“I will say that… We love our teachers, we love our staff. I did feel that tonight there was some attacking that was not warranted, by just about everybody.”
“… We’re all people, we’re all suffering from all the problems in the world today,” she said. “… We manage a really large budget that we need to make sure is protected so jobs are next year, the year after that and 10 years after that.”
Efforts to reach RBTA President Merlan Land for this article were unsuccessful. ER