Tension builds in Rancho Santa Fe School District contract talks


As negotiations continue between the Rancho Santa Fe School District and the Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association (RSFFA), parents and staff are feeling the tension and animosity on campus. At the May 12 board meeting, several parents and teachers expressed their opinions on the negotiation process — as teachers were unable to attend the 9 a.m. meeting during contract hours, they wrote letters that were read one by one into the record.

“As a veteran at this school, it is heartbreaking to see the poor morale on campus as well as the broken spirits of my colleagues. Twenty-four years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” wrote teacher Jackie Mendez. “It is extremely difficult to walk around campus and see everyone force a smile and administrators avoiding teachers or walking with their heads down. Even worse, watching teachers arrive and leave at contract hours to the very second because they don’t feel valued.”

Several teachers referenced a letter to the parent community that went out on May 10 that they felt unfairly “discredited and trivialized” their position to the community. Teacher Lori Edwards wrote in a letter that she has been surprised by the district’s negative reaction to good faith negotiations.

“The adversarial response by the district is unwarranted,” Edwards wrote. “Feelings of being misunderstood and mistrusted are continuing to grow.”

In the letter, RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney acknowledged the “emotional times” of this heated negotiations period and addressed a flyer that was passed out by the California Teachers Association and the RSFFA last week.

“I would encourage you to keep that in mind and know that the flyer passed out yesterday should be viewed as what it is, a propaganda piece that is frequently used by CTA in these types of negotiations,” Delaney wrote. “Because the CTA flyer contained many factual inaccuracies, I wanted to take this opportunity to give parents the facts. Please know that the district values and appreciates its teachers and this letter should not be viewed as an attack on the teachers. The district is only responding to the flyer so that district parents have all the facts.”

The letter offered the district’s position on many of the issues the RSFFA is negotiating for, including salary increases and comparable benefits, Policy 4111 regarding the enrollment of teachers’ children in the district and “no tell” days.

The letter refuted the flyer’s claim that teachers want professional respect in matters of privacy for their personal necessity leave days.

“This is a spin on the Faculty Association’s proposal for ‘no tell’ days in which employees can be absent from work without providing any reason whatsoever. Teachers at the district are already allowed to use up to eight days of their sick leave for personal necessity leave as authorized under the Education Code,” Delaney wrote. “The district believes that it is extremely important for teachers to be in the classroom unless they have a very good reason not to be. The district does not believe the Faculty Association’s proposal for three ‘no tell’ days is in the best interests of students.”

Some teachers said the letter was hard not to take as a personal attack because issues were not clearly communicated.

Teacher Kristin Gerding wrote in her letter that the “no tell” days are not the teachers asking for more days off but are instead a request that two of their sick days are allocated to a personal business day.

Gerding said the request is not out of the ordinary as surrounding districts give teachers between two and six personal days. RSF teachers said they get one day only after they have disclosed to the superintendent the purpose of the day. Gerding said as much as possible, she tries not to miss school as she adores her students.

“There have been years where I’ve never used a sick day,” Gerding said. “I don’t like being absent from school. My students need me. But I’m also a wife, a mother, a friend and so on. I treasure my work life and my personal life and once in awhile they collide.”

Teachers have argued that the district is at risk of losing high quality teachers if their salaries and benefits are not comparable with surrounding districts.

Delaney’s letter stated that the district’s salary schedule has always been “highly competitive” with other local comparable school districts and the proposed 3.75 percent increase ensures it will continue to be highly competitive.

“The District is not aware of a single teacher who has left the district as a result of salary, and has not been notified this year that any teacher plans to leave as a result of salary,” Delaney wrote.

Parent Chuck Bair said there’s a lot of noise in the community on this very heated issue, but he hopes that no one loses sight of everyone’s mutual goal, to provide the best possible education for the students.

Bair said it’s difficult as an outsider to understand the budget and all of the issues involved but the one thing he does understand is that a group of teachers are really dissatisfied.

“I view (teachers) as the greatest asset this school has,” Bair said. “The fact that they’re not walking out the door yet is not an indication that they’re happy, satisfied and properly incentivized…It’s always tough, negotiations are hard and there’s never a perfect answer but let’s please, please, please try to find the best answer for everybody.”

Delaney wrote in her May 10 letter: “The district values its teachers and remains committed to reaching an agreement in negotiations this year.”