Loomis Union offers teachers golden handshake to help cut budget

By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Loomis teachers and district administrators are wrangling over pay freezes and furlough days as they negotiate labor contracts for next year. The negotiations are part of the Loomis Union School District’s attempt to cut $1,168,000 from their 2010-2011 school year to address cuts in state funding. H. Clarke Powers School teacher Debbie Newton told the school board at their December meeting that teachers feel “betrayed” by the district’s proposal that teachers accept a pay freeze and additional furlough days. “We all realize that we are in a financial crisis. But your fair share cuts are just not reasonable,” Newton said. Newton questioned the fairness of the district’s contract proposal, which includes eliminating teacher pay for two of the three preparation days in August before school starts, and a freeze in the step scale. With the ‘step scale’ teachers receive an automatic increase in pay based on their salary, seniority and number of university credits they’ve earned. Newton suggested that the district look at cutting the payments administrators receive for professional dues, master’s degree stipends and travel allowances. Paul Johnson, district superintendent, said all of the cuts are “just to get us through a bad deficit situation.” According to Johnson, on Dec. 14, just before school let out for the holiday break, the district proposed a golden handshake plan for retiring teachers. He said it would give teachers, age 55 and over, two additional years of teaching credit in exchange for their retirement at the end of this school year. Teachers would have until the end of January to accept the offer. “This allows them to qualify for a higher retirement pension,” Johnson said. Johnson said he’s hoping that if enough teachers accept the golden handshake, then a large part of the deficit and the “fair share” of cuts teachers are being asked to take can be eliminated. He also said the district is willing to commit $745,000 in reserves over the next four years to balance the district budget. “We realize the reserves are saved for a rainy day and it’s a storm right now,” Johnson said. Linda Gessner, a teacher at Powers Elementary, is on the bargaining team for the Loomis Teachers Association. She said teachers have already had to take three furlough days and that they have “one of the lowest salary schedules in Northern California.” “We want the district to look at other areas where we can cut back rather than taking additional days and money from teachers,” she said. She also said that it will be difficult for teachers to provide quality education “if the class sizes increase, our days are cut, we don't have teacher's aides to help in the classroom and our salaries are frozen in the middle of an economically difficult time.”