Rancho Santa Fe School teachers ask for raise, better benefits

By Karen Billing

R. Roger Rowe School teachers requested a raise and improved benefits when they made a plea for their new contract negotiations at the March 7 Rancho Santa Fe School Board meeting.

“Rowe can do more for their teachers,” said Steve Riviere, a 15-year teacher at Rowe. “We’ve done more with less for a community of more, more than almost anyone else. It’s your turn to do the right thing.”

Riviere made the teachers’ “sunshine proposal” to begin the process of negotiations before a room filled with teachers who attended the meeting. Each teacher stood to introduce themselves and state their years of service, which ranged from three to 23 years with the district.

Last May the Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association made its initial proposal to the board on its new three-year contracts, requesting increased salary and benefits, and a continuation of the board policy to allow faculty children to attend R. Roger Rowe.

The district did not complete contract negotiations last year and recommended a cooling off period until after the 2012 elections in light of Prop 30 being on the November ballot.

Negotiations are starting up again and the teachers hope to complete them before the end of the school year as the renewal of the policy to allow faculty children to attend Rowe is tied to the negotiations.

“The goal of negotiations is to reach an outcome that is agreeable to both parties. As everyone is aware, we have had a declining budget for the past several years. We will need to wait to see what the Faculty Association is requesting,” said RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney.

The teachers say they hope that they can get an increase in salary that matches their value.

“We are a uniquely smart group that works extremely hard to create an experience for the children that is remarkable,” Riviere said, noting that their work resulted in an API (Academic Performance Index) of 963 last year, the district’s highest score ever.

He said while he thinks Rowe is a wonderful school and he wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else, he thinks the district can do better in rewarding its teachers.

Teachers have gone without a raise for the last three years. He said the district ranks 13th out of 40 San Diego County school districts in teacher salaries and when benefits are added in, the district drops to 20th.

While the percent spent on teacher salaries is among the lowest of basic aid districts, the percent spent on classified salaries ranks the highest.

He said the “salary stagnation” doesn’t make sense as the district has one of the highest reserves in the county ($5 million in reserves and a $4 million endowment) and a “predictable income stream” has been generated by the passage of Prop 30 and increased property values.

“You have the money and now you have to do the right thing,” Riviere said.

Riviere said he is feeling even more squeezed by the fact that healthcare costs have increased. He has to pay one-third of his monthly salary toward healthcare costs. The district’s dental plan doesn’t cover orthodontics so he said his daughter’s “beautiful smile” costs an additional $6,000.

“My choice to lead a single income family shouldn’t hurt so much but it does and I’ve had to reduce the level of coverage because it didn’t make sense,” Riviere said. “The district’s health benefits are so lacking that half of the staff declines to take coverage.”

Riviere noted that funds from declined coverage go back to the district and could help pay for raises.

According to teacher Steven Rossier, the teachers asked the school board in a letter to consider not using an attorney for contract negotiations as it has led to a contentious atmosphere in the past. The district has continued to use an attorney so the teachers have to bring representation to the table as well. Rossier said most districts in the area do not go to the negotiating table with attorneys.