Some 65 Albany teachers crammed into a standing-room only council chambers Tuesday night to plead with the school board not to consider cutting their benefits.
According to Tuesday night's meeting , contract negotiations are underway between the district and the Albany Teachers Association.
The district's bargaining proposal considers possible changes to health and welfare benefits, retirement benefits and leaves.
The district legally is not allowed to discuss any details of the deal on the bargaining table, but seven Albany teachers, representing many others who held signs and clapped loudly in agreement, shared their concerns about proposed contract changes during the March 21 public comment period of the board meeting.
Teachers Association President, and Albany High teacher, David De Hart asked the district to delay a "fundamental change" in health, welfare and retirement benefits for teachers until "more facts are on the table."
De Hart pointed to "" and the possibility of "a new bill passing that will bring added revenue to public schools" as reasons why it would be prudent to wait to consider significant contract changes.
Loring Barker, the association's bargaining chair, said teachers' "total compensation package" is what helps the district retain excellent teachers and ensure students get the best experience in the classroom.
"It has helped to make Albany, so far, a district where students are thanks to qualified, experienced teachers."
teacher Richard Lew, an Albany schools alum himself, said he returned to teach in Albany because "I believe in what Albany schools do and how they do it.... These teachers (have) worked creatively and tirelessly to produce generations of kids who are not only well educated, but good citizens."
He also shared with the board his family's story. His wife, too, teaches at Albany Middle School, and the couple has two young children.
"The future of my family is directly tied to decisions that will be made regarding the ATA contract. As the contract currently reads, we are living on a 2007 salary and receiving full medical benefits."
He said a large chunk of his family's income goes toward childcare and saving for their childrens' college tuition. If money from their paychecks is diverted toward medical coverage, he said, he and his wife "could not afford being teachers in Albany.... Changing the contract in regards to medical benefits is a permanent change in response to temporary financial hard times. These tough times will pass."
English teacher John Bailes said, over the past few years, many districts have grappled with concerns about budget shortfalls, but "deficits didn't materialize." He called proposed contract changes "premature" and asked the district to wait until after the fall election to consider drastic changes.
Kerry Dunigan, a teacher at , said the Teachers Association is "committed to ... working with the district." She pointed to the district's "healthy reserve" of $6.7 million, or 13 percent, which is much higher than the legally required $1.6 million.
"If, come fall, it comes to significant cuts, we are more than willing to come back to that table and work with you," she told the board.
said, after the meeting, that the district currently provides teachers with full family plan health coverage of any offering from the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
Teachers do not pay for the coverage.
According to the second interim budget for 2011-12, benefits for teachers and classified employees, such as maintenance staff and secretaries, were budgeted at nearly $8.6 million.
That makes up about 24 percent of the district's of almost $34.8 million.
The district spent about $5.3 million on these benefits in 2010-11.
(Stephenson said the actual cost to the district of teacher benefits could be provided, and Albany Patch has requested this information.)
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