“We will stand our ground, we won’t back down.,” a poster read at a recent school board meeting. After two years of negotiation, the Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) and its education associations are at a standstill. The VUSD and Ventura Unified Educator Association (VUEA) and Ventura Education Support Professionals Association (VESPA) have been in arbitration regarding a two percent raise request by the two associations for the current school year. So far, no settlement has been made. At this time, a state funded mediator has been requested to help the district and the two unions reach an agreement.
On Tuesday, Oct. 10, a VESPA/VUEA townhall meeting was held at Foothill High School. Speaking, were VUEA president, Dan Nelson and chair of VESPA negotiations, Michael Musser. They reiterated that they are working jointly for the raise. It was pointed out that employees had not received a raise from the prior school year. “Every other school district around us got a two percent raise last year,” Musser emphasized.
It was also discussed at the townhall meeting that the dedication of teachers and support professionals exceeds what is expected; classroom doors are always open to students during personal lunch breaks and before school hours. These extra hours are not paid. Nelson and Musser expressed frustration that the sacrifices given by VUSD employees are not being appreciated by the school board and stressed that there is no compensation given.
The need for a raise, Musser stated, was dire, due to the fact that VUSD is training people into qualified employees in their field, who then find jobs in surrounding school districts with better pay. The two also cited the fact that the cost of living in Ventura has significantly increased in recent years. Nelson stressed the fact that while VUSD employees love what they do, “it’s time for the district to start thinking differently how to balance the budget.”
That evening at Ventura’s City Hall, the school board hosted a meeting full of VUSD employees in a sea of red. Dozens of red signs that read “VUSD no more LEFTOVERS” and “VUSD 2% Now” were held up in defiance of the school board and in unity with fellow VUSD employees. More than 20 VUSD teachers and classified employees spoke at the microphone and told their stories. They all shared the same message: the raise that they are asking for is well deserved; the district must value their employees.
Representing Buena High School was science teacher Richard Smith. As a long time VUSD employee, he was dismayed that the board would not grant the raise. “I express my appreciation for giving me a 30 year service award this year. I felt truly appreciative,” he paused, “and then, I realized I was not worth two percent…It’s difficult every year and it becomes more difficult when that appreciation is not reflected in a two percent offer.”
Atlas K-2 teacher, Nancy Wipf spoke about the dedication of VUSD employees. “As teachers, that is what we’re expected to do, make it work,” she emphasized to the school board. “Many days we were the last cars in the parking lot, at night. Our contract days end at 3 o’clock. Are any of you able to leave at 3 o’clock?” she asked the crowd which responded with laughs. “We have plans to make, meetings to attend…I feel for the newest teachers that have had a hard time affording to rent or buy a home in the very city they work in.”
VUSD paraeducator, Natalee Allen, shared the struggle to make ends meet on the salary wage she earns. “I was just paid on the last day of September…I have $35 until the end of the month,” Allen said. “That is 6 cents per day for myself and my 13-year-old. If you’re having such a difficult time letting loose on those purse strings why don’t you envision a carton of milk or some eggs for me and my son….Quite honestly, the way all of you are behaving, my classroom behaves better than you.”
Joel Levin, Buena High School librarian also stepped up to the microphone to share his story: “I started teaching…in Oxnard School District and I took an eight thousand dollar pay cut to transfer to Buena in 2004,” Levin began, “Money is being budgeted [in VUSD] for everything else…with additional increases in employees salaries based off of what’s left,” he said. “With this kind of prioritizing, my livelihood feels like an afterthought. Every time I work through my lunch break, or attend a school event in the evening, or give up hours outside of the working day so that I can support my students, it’s with the knowledge that my work is not being properly valued; that I’m making $20,000 less each year than if I had stayed in Oxnard Union High School District,” Levin stated to the crowd’s dismay. “Yes, students are undoubtedly the most important priority for our districts, as a parent I completely understand, but I also understand that teachers should be the next highest priority for the school district; the employees that spend countless unpaid hours working overtime for the children of this community.”
Submitted upon request to Buena Speaks by VESPA and VUSD School Board are statements in response to Tuesday night’s meeting, the ongoing negotiations, and the current state of impasse.
Statement from VESPA
Statement from VUSD School Board
“The School Board appreciates and highly values all VUSD employees. We understand their frustration with a less than desirable pay increase. Unfortunately our state does not fund education as highly as almost all other states in our nation. California recently reordered the way districts are paid (Local Control Funding Formula) and VUSD now receives less money per student than most of our neighboring school districts. At the same time, the California’s public retirement system raised our VUSD retirement payment expenses substantially several years ago and each of the next four years. These events have put us in a difficult place and have been a contributing factor to VUSD deficit spending over the past two years. We have been spending more than we receive and consequently have received dire warning notices from officials. It is the board’s hope that the state will soon modify the way our we receive our funding so that we can pay our employees appropriately. The board totally agrees that they should be paid more, but at the same time we are legally prohibited from writing checks that we cannot cover from our income.”
VUEA and VESPA encourage the community members to express their opinions on the two percent raise for the current school year to the school board. They stated that this issue not only affects VUSD employees, but students as well. Those who feel compelled to take action may email the school board. Contact information can be found on the Ventura Unified School District website: http://www.venturausd.org/board/SuperintendentBoard/BOARDOFEDUCATION.aspx
Updates on the progression of the VUSD negotiation will be published in future posts.