Teachers Receive 4% Pay Hike

Teacher Patty Rabun takes delight in her students’ reaction.

Teacher Patty Rabun takes delight in her students’ reaction.

Property taxes will pay for a 4% salary increase for teachers, counselors and department chiefs in the Laguna Beach Unified School District.  The district’s board unanimously approved the pay raise Tuesday, Jan. 28, without discussion. The pay hikes are retroactively effective as of last July 1.

As a result of Tuesday’s decision, the district will now pay its 162 kindergarten-through-12th-grade teachers and six counselors a total of nearly $21 million in salaries.  The 4% hike added $843,649 to that total and requires teachers to put in two more non-teaching workdays before the school year starts.  The average annual teacher salary with benefits of $123,920 now increases by $5,198 a year to $129,118.

With one pact concluded, district officials expect to begin contract negotiations on Feb. 8 with the California School Employees Association, which includes the district’s classified or non-credentialed staff, such as maintenance and cafeteria employees.

The pivotal negotiating point for the teachers’ contract, according to Leisa Winston, the district’s newly hired human resources and public communications director, is training, time and implementation of the new state-mandated Common Core learning standards.  Linda Barker, president of the teachers’ union, did not return phone messages seeking comment.

The new learning standards emphasize computer technology skills, student collaboration and text essay writing rather than fictional writing.  One goal is to make students more competitive in the world market by preparing them as early as seventh grade to meet college and career requirements.  The new Common Core standards start in kindergarten.

Due to time and effort to implement the new standards, teachers’ and department heads’ work days increased by two to 187; the six district student counselors will add two more days as well, bringing their total to 197.  The new schedule becomes effective July 1.

The pay raise reflects a 3% increase plus another 1% increase as compensation for adding two nonteaching work days so teachers can work together on coordinating the new learning standards.  The approved contract also includes new early retirement incentives.

Another 25 employees, who are not represented by the teachers’ union, also received 4% pay raises. These include four school psychologists and classified management employees, which are department directors without teaching credentials, and teacher-certificated administrators such as principals and assistant principals. The raise cost the district $183,295 overall and brings that group’s total salary pay-out to $4.4 million a year.

Superintendent Sherine Smith, the district’s highest paid employee, is also eligible for a salary increase.  Her current annual salary is $225,000 and an increase depends on the outcome of a pending contract amendment with the district’s board.

Employee salary increases are not a one-time occurrence; they continue whether they are renegotiated or not, said Winston.

And Laguna schools have continued to absorb increases because its $42.3 million budget is predominantly supported by $40 million in property tax revenue, which continues to escalate along with rising property values. As a designated Basic Aid district that relies on property tax revenue, Laguna schools remain less vulnerable to lower revenue allocations from the state. The district’s budget includes a state-mandated reserve, which now amounts to $4 million.

Under the contract terms, new teachers for the 2014-15 school year can receive credit for three years of experience prior to hiring, which steps them up the pay scale. Even if a teacher candidate has 10 years of experience elsewhere, three years of experience in the LBUSD usually provides better pay.

“Because Laguna Beach is very competitive with salary,” said Winston, “we’re able to recruit highly experienced and well-trained folks.  So we can usually bring them in at a lower step than most other districts.”

Teachers and counselors will also be able to take eight days rather than seven for personal leave, borrowing one additional day from already designated sick leave.  “However, in no case shall this leave be used for recreational purposes or an extension of District holidays or vacations,” according to the contract.

The teachers’ pay scale is determined by points for teaching experience and continued education.  Each point is worth $179,635, according to a report on the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association collective bargaining agreement.

Teachers’ salaries and benefits cost the district $20.1 million a year prior to the new agreement.  The negotiated increase of $843,649 in salaries includes a $145,005 cost increase in health benefits.

The teachers’ union is still negotiating with the state over an increase in work hours required for teachers of grades 9-12. The district currently meets the state’s requirement of 63,000 instructional minutes for the 2013-14 school year.  For 2014-15, the state will require 64,800 minutes of classroom time for students. If the discrepancy is not resolved, negotiations with the district will re-open, according to a district report on the contract.

A high school teacher is currently under contract for 440 minutes a day, 185 days a year, which includes planning and nonteaching time.

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