Teachers Speak Out Against Possible Benefits Cuts

Albany teachers, historically, have not had to pay for health benefits for their families. A change may be on the bargaining table. Click "Keep me posted" below for updates on school budget issues.

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.)

Want an alert when we write about school budget issues in Albany? Click the "Keep me posted" button below. Read more here.

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email albany@patch.com.

Ira Sharenow March 25, 2012 at 05:13 PM
My view. I consider the current situation unsustainable. I support the repeal of Prop 13 so for example those who own houses with a market value of $500,000 pay taxes appropriate for that valuation. I believe that Albany voters should repeal the tax break for homeowners who are 65. I would make significant changes to the policy of admitting many hundreds of non-parcel taxpaying non-resident children. I would like to see more entry level teachers employed. If teachers want to be viewed as high level professionals, there needs to be a merit system for retention and promotion. Why should exceptionally talented teachers be paid the same as underperformers? The view and tactics of some other discussants. It appears as though some like to talk about what life would be like if Prop 13 was partially overturned. They want more money for teachers but do not say where they would cut. They would cut into the reserve which would be extremely risky and which would cause AUSD’s borrowing rate to skyrocket to something that is much higher than the Measure E borrowing. They accuse those who have alternative visions of being anti-children or anti-teacher. Possible tactic. ATA can get a $2 million increase in parcel taxes on the ballot with the money to go for raises and benefits for credentialed staff and they can run board candidates who are even more pro-teachers union than the current board.
Nancy King March 25, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Berkeley teachers gave up full health benefits long ago. It was a complicated revenue sharing plan that gave us raises during the years when the district had the funding. Since the district has had very little funding because of the downturn in the economy, we haven't had a raise for 3 or 4 years. In order to get the revenue sharing plan, we allowed the district to put a hard cap on benefits. It has been very difficult because health benefits go up every year and we pay more and more. Since there are no more raises to offset the increased costs in health benefits, it has amounted to ongoing pay cuts. We have avoided furlough days so far, but that might be the next step. We don't get insurance coverage after we retire. This year we are facing layoffs. Luckily, we still have class size reduction in K-3, but that may change too. I can certainly see why Albany teachers want to hold on to their benefits. There are many teachers in Berkeley who now regret accepting the hard cap on benefits. I teach in Berkeley, but I live in Albany. I repeat that Albany teachers deserve the respect of this community.
Ira Sharenow March 31, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Some districts are trying to hire the best teachers and not just the most senior. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/03/31/MN1F1NSJ0C.DTL&tsp=1 Separately, what happened to the comments section on the front page?
Stephanie Travis April 10, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Is no one wondering why in one year benefit costs rose from $5.3 million in 2010-11 to $8.6 million in 2011-12. Is that 62% increase a typo? If not, the School district has a lot of explaining to do. I think the School District owes Albany taxpayers a more open and numerically factual discussion about its budget. The district should not push aside residents by saying they accept non-residents students because the ADA funds help pay for school costs. They should show us the cost/benefit analysis they must have done in order to make that statement and prove to us that Albany property owners are not paying higher taxes in order to accommodate nonresident students. Similarly, the District should explain, in writing, with numbers, what would be the impact on the budget and reserves if the District waited until after the upcoming election to assess employees for the cost of health benefits.
Emilie Raguso September 24, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Albany Patch is preparing a list of questions from readers for school board candidates. We've scheduled, in conjunction with St. Alban's, candidate forums in October. (BOE: Oct. 10; CC: Oct. 17) Details here: http://patch.com/A-ybgT Please comment back ASAP to let us know your questions for school board candidates, or email me at albany@patch.com.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »