Letter to editor: Mammoth school district and teachers group declare impasse

(Press Release from Mammoth Unified School District)

Following months of negotiations with the teachers association, the Mammoth Unified School District and the Mammoth Education Association unfortunately have jointly decided to declare impasse in their negotiations.  Like all school districts throughout the state, Mammoth Unified has been forced to make deep budget cuts, which significantly compromises its ability to satisfy the teachers’ requests.

“By declaring impasse, the state will assign our District an objective, informed mediator who will review the parties’ proposals, listen to the concerns we have with our District’s budget and, I hope, help us reach an agreement,”  said Rich Boccia, Superintendent of Schools.  “Our intent is that this process will bring closure to negotiations, as we are running out of time.  And, given that we are just days from the start of school, I know that our teachers and this community would like to see all of us return our full attention to the students.”

Three-Year Projections Required

The District was required to present the Mono County Office of Education with a three-year budget on June 30,2012, a budget that must accommodate the state’s dire fiscal situation, including ongoing cuts to public education.  When presented to the county, the District’s budget must contain all operating and budget projections and precisely show how the District intends to maintain solvency across three school years.

To help maintain programs and services for students while accommodating these budget cuts, the District has a reserve of 29 percent.  Given the projected funding cuts to education and the District’s estimated operational costs, without structural changes being made to the manner in which we provide services, the District’s reserve will be reduced to 11 percent by the 2013-14 school year, and will show a negative 3 percent balance by 2014-15 school year, the third year out.

This reserve is creating a negotiations sticking point.

“I understand that a 29 percent reserve sounds like a pot of gold, but the simple truth is that these funds would barely cover four months of the District’s operational costs.  I would be a failed leader if I allowed the District to allocate this finite amount of money to an ongoing expense, such as employees’ benefits or salaries,” explains Superintendent Boccia.  In fact, Ron Bennett, President and CEO of School Services of California, the recognized leader in California school finance, has informed the District that because Mammoth Unified is a small basic aid district, it should have a 33 to 38 percent reserve, to address potential financial shortfalls.

“Pretending that you can cover an ongoing cost with one-time money would be a sure way to devastate this District and our community, who trust us to manage their tax dollars prudently and with an eye on our shared mission, which is service to students.”

Projected Cuts

The District’s total annual operating budget is approximately $12,000,000. must identify $800,000 in cuts for the 2012-13 year, plus an additional $500,000 if the Governor’s November tax initiative fails.  Further, the District is looking at future deficits of $1,100,000 in 2013-14 and $1,800,000 in 2014-15.

The Board of Education has set forth two key guiding points for negotiations.  First, they believe that these cuts must be a shared responsibility across the entire organization. Second, the District must not dismiss or marginalize its responsibility to provide all students with programs that will help ensure that they can compete in the 21st century.

To the first point, the Board of Education took action to reduce classified positions, including custodial, maintenance, food services and instructional aides, by $165,000.   Additionally, the District has achieved $86,000. through attrition.  The District is asking for the teachers’ union to assist in addressing the budget shortfalls in the form of furloughs and a health benefits cap.  And to the second point, the District is striving to help maintain positions, programs and services to meet the needs of students and help protect jobs.

The Spiraling Cost of Benefits

Currently, the District’s employee health benefits package costs the district approximately $20,000 for a family annual coverage.  “At a time when this nation, state and our region face record unemployment numbers, it is imprudent to use our diminishing budgets to cover increasing benefits costs.  This budget line item must be contained, there is no reasonable business alternative,” stresses Mr. Boccia.

“Employee frustration and anxiety over these discussions is understandable,” explains the Superintendent.  “Everyone in education works so hard to meet the needs of our kids; however, we did not create this situation.  The state’s dire fiscal situation has placed the ugly reality of budget cuts on the door step of fire and police departments, hospitals and schools and universities throughout the state.  We did not create this bad economy, but we are certainly left with the responsibility of helping to clean it up.”

The District appreciates and respects the hard work of all our employees and what they do for our children, their families and this community.   We are also grateful to all members of the bargaining team for devoting time to help resolve these negotiations.


29 Responses to Letter to editor: Mammoth school district and teachers group declare impasse

  1. kaat August 10, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    “Currently, the District’s employee health benefits package costs the district approximately $20,000 for a family annual coverage.”

    When I see district employees kids getting braces for practically “free” (low cost of course) b/c of these benefits while the rest of us are paying $3,000 to $10,000 out-of-pocket for our children’s braces I see RED!

    We all have our kids in the district’s schools yet those of us that are not District employees are paying for district employees over the top health benefits. It is time that the district employees see the reality of the budget and the economy and come down to earth regarding their way too generous health benefits……times are different now and everyone is watching….no more behind closed doors union deals please….our kids need a good education vs. district employees crazy health benefits.

    Thank you for taking a closer look at where the budget can be cut and thanks to our Super. for addressing the reality of the situation.

    • Heidi August 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm #

      It is unfortunate that in trying to make your point you have identified a benefit for MUSD employees (orthodontic coverage) that does not exist. I am an employee of the district and currently have three children in braces. If, in fact, my health insurance covers orthodontic care, please tell me where I’ve gone wrong because each time I visit the orthodontist I pay…out of pocket….NO coverage NO discount. Fact checking is beneficial toward making your point stick.

      • kaat August 13, 2012 at 8:23 am #

        Heidi – it was a district employee that told me about the benefit….so maybe there is coverage. I do not tend to throw out misinformation…what would the point be to that when district employees read this comment section? Perhaps you are going to a different orthodontist? Double check you plan and your Dr. and maybe you can stop paying out of pocket too.

    • Trouble August 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

      Kaat- I don’t see anything wrong with the regular employees getting good coverage. It’s the top few that make 20 times that of a normal employee that has ruined the balance in our economy . Plus I doubt their insurance is free like it used to be.

      • Big AL August 13, 2012 at 1:11 am #

        It never was free, it was low cost .. they still have to pay half of it .. or it might be more than half by now, I’m sure. and pay a deductable and all.
        Premiums are deducted out of their pay checks, those big fat pay checks that they get lol .. yeah right .. it is the big fat cats that make the big bucks
        What they get is pretty much what someone in the private sector would get if they went with an insurance plan that they can buy like Cobra, paying their own medical and dental. Only the people in the private sector pay the whole amount.

      • kaat August 13, 2012 at 8:43 am #

        I think it’s the $20, 000/year per district employee family number that is shocking, regardless of their income. That is like adding $20,000 to each district employees’ income….it’s a cash benefit. It’s easy to forget was it is like for non-government employees in the workplace – those without car allowances (I doubt many have this benefit), those without generous health benefits or vacation and sick days, etc. When you work for the government (and teachers, etc in public schools are government employees) you may forget what it is like to pay up to $1000/ a month (that’s right – per month) for health care that only covers Major Medical expenses. Reality checks are important. It’s true that any of us could try to get a district/government job and enjoy wonderful benefits….however, when you work in government jobs it’s a good idea to remember how your salary and benefits are funded….by the public. And remember that your salary and benefits are subject to review and subject to the administrators and their job description….to be financially responsible to the public. After all, it is a public school. I still believe that in these times, I would rather that all of our children receive the best possible education vs. the district employees keeping all of their generous benefits….can you really dispute that reasoning? I didn’t create this financial mess, I am simply giving a voice to those that do not work for the district but have children in the school. We are frustrated at the situation. So, maybe the top 20% needs to have cuts to their salary and benefits too – that goes without saying, but $20,000/year in district employee benefits for families is crazy no matter how the economy is doing!

        • Big AL August 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

          So where did you come up with that number, I find it hard to believe that amount is an annual amount, maybe if a person family or family member incured that that because of an illness or injury or multiple events?

          • kaat August 14, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

            Big Al – the $20,000 number is from the above article:

            “The Spiraling Cost of Benefits

            Currently, the District’s employee health benefits package costs the district approximately $20,000 for a family annual coverage. ”At a time when this nation, state and our region face record unemployment numbers, it is imprudent to use our diminishing budgets to cover increasing benefits costs. This budget line item must be contained, there is no reasonable business alternative,” stresses Mr. Boccia.

            “Employee frustration and anxiety over these discussions is understandable,” explains the Superintendent. “Everyone in education works so hard to meet the needs of our kids; however, we did not create this situation. The state’s dire fiscal situation has placed the ugly reality of budget cuts on the door step of fire and police departments, hospitals and schools and universities throughout the state. We did not create this bad economy, but we are certainly left with the responsibility of helping to clean it up.”

    • JeanGenie August 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

      I don’t know what its like now but 20 years ago Inyo County had a contract with Dr. Lowthorp and we paid approximately half of the regular cost of braces. I don’t believe this was because the county paid Dr. Lowthorp or any type of premium.

  2. Well-researched facts August 14, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Kaat –
    With all due respect, I think quoting numbers and facts to some on this blog will only result in fingers stuck in their ears.
    Be prepared to be called a liar or worse.

    • kaat August 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      It’s important to represent both sides and if others think the I am lying, etc…so be it….but all sides need a voice.

      There are so many locals working in the government/public school that I can see why my comments are not well received. However, many of those same people also have kids in the public school and their very children’s education will be hurt if their health benefits are not cut back, etc They are in a difficult situation. I hope they come to their senses and see that the kids education needs to trump generous health benefits.

      As a non-government worker I am not asking for the same generous benefits as government employees….I am not complaining about my situation…it is what it is and I cut back in other areas so that our family can have some health insurance benefits no matter what the cost….I suggest the district employees do the same….quit complaining, pay more of the cost of their health insurance and cut back in others areas of the family budget….it’s the way of the world is right now…..hopefully it will get better in the not too distant future. But our kids only get one chance at a great education….let’s make sure they get it now!

      • Big AL August 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

        For the record kaat, I’m not calling you a liar, well researched Dr. Facts is stirring the crap. I don’t think most see it that way either, but I just don’t see that it is costing that much.

        • Hypocrisy 1 August 15, 2012 at 5:21 am #

          Nice try Big Al, but your never-ending demonization of liberals (aka Democrats) is approaching legendary status. A Democrat happens to be in office now and to the nasty extremists he is a commie or something. Your non-stop whining about paying taxes (for anything) is absurd.

          • Trouble August 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

            Hypocrisy- wow your really wrong.

          • Big AL August 15, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

            Thank you, thank you very much Dr. Facts .. legendary eh? You may think I am but no I am not not at all. Thanks for the support.

  3. Trouble August 14, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Katt- my apology if I sounded like I thought you were making up facts. I totally agree with you that our first priority with or tax dollars should be our kids education. I think our kids health is just as important also. I hope it gets better soon also.

    • kaat August 14, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

      Thanks Trouble. I want to add that my children are healthy even it I am paying $1000 in premiums each month. Just saying that the district paying $20,000 a year for the district employees’ family health plans is way over the top and that the employees should pay more of their share so that all of our children can get the top notch education that the Boccia is trying to give them.

  4. Heidi August 19, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    I do not feel the need to apologize, as a teacher, for my medical benefits, or for the cost incurred by the district to provide them. I have just a few questions as we ponder whether it’s a valued expense for society to make when members and organizations therein choose to support educators.

    If you work in an office, do you bring your own staples?
    If you work in a grocery store, do you bring your own milk when the store runs out?
    If you work in a zoo, do you bring your own animal food when the funding for food runs out?

    I am incredibly appreciative of the group of parents and parent teacher organizations I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the years for the donations to my classroom that make my personal expenditures less than they would be without parent support and donations; however, the fact is that many teachers spend money every year to ensure the education of their students is exemplary. It’s nearly impossible (in my experience) to avoid spending money in order to do my job. To be clear, I knew what I was signing up for, NO complaints here for doing what needs to be done to do my job well.

    Specifically, with the economy the way it is, the district is unable to provide more than $250 per classroom for supplies (pencils, erasers, crayons, glue, paper, paint…) and as a result of the economy, class sizes have risen to roughly 25 and sometimes more. That translates to $10 per student for the duration of a 180 day school year.

    If you are a teacher, do you buy pencils for students when they run out?
    If you are a teacher, do you buy supplies for any enrichment activities outside the regular curriculum?
    If you are a teacher, do you buy kleenex if the donations parents have made run out?
    If you are a teacher, do you buy paper towels for your classroom when the district runs out?
    If you are a teacher, do you buy crayons when they’re too broken to use?
    If you are a teacher, can you be counted on to arrive in your classroom days early (without pay) to ensure the environment is ready for students to learn?

    Again, I am making NO complaint about these facts I’ve known since before I chose education as my profession, it just sometimes becomes frustrating to watch the ball get rolling on teacher bashing that is sometimes inaccurate (as a side note: perhaps various orthodontists make deals with various organizations for various discounts, however, MUSD health benefits do not cover or discount orthodontic care. If other arrangements with individual care providers have been made, so be it, but the district plan does not cover or assist with those costs).

    We’re a tough lot. We can take the criticism…it comes around every now and then….but the quality of education that most of us are dedicated to providing will remain, in spite of the expectation that we give more, and take less, as the economy, or public opinion dictate.

    My comments do not reflect my feelings on the current situation in the district, rather my feelings in general, about the tendency kaat is illustrating, to look at teachers as ungrateful and, in this case, selfish. My observations are consistently that most teachers I have had experience with are quite the opposite.

    • Taxpayer August 20, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      I gladly pay my taxes for the education of our children.

    • kaat August 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm #

      …….”to look at teachers as ungrateful and, in this case, selfish…”

      – it should be noted that I did not use the terms “ungrateful” OR “selfish” to describe teachers at MUSD or any teachers anywhere…I actually only spoke about “district employees” and while teachers are part of that group – there are other district employees too.

      Although you insist that you knew what you signed up for when becoming a teacher, your lengthy response shows that you are mad as hell about the extra expenses that you personally have to incur to teach your students….your anger should be directed at the School District, not the parents of the district’s students who pay our taxes, buy supplies for our own children too and continue to contribute money all year long to fundraisers, etc.

      To simplify the issue at hand, and to take the emotion out of it….the benefits for district employees (again,I never singled out teachers) is not sustainable in this economy and either the benefits get reduced or the education of ALL our children will suffer.

  5. trouble August 20, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    Heidi- you get a A+ in my book. Thanks!!

  6. Dave August 20, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Heidi- First, thank you for your service as a teacher. Everybody knows people don’t become teachers for the huge salaries a professional ball player gets or someone else who never stepped into a college classroom. The priorities of this society are backwards in many ways. The amount of fiscal waste at all levels of government is staggering and until taxpayers demand greater accountability, education will suffer.

  7. Ken Warner August 20, 2012 at 8:24 am #

    Attacks on teachers and education in general are a well developed strategy by the right wing that is used to dumb down the electorate. To make them easy to manipulate with meaningless slogans and vague promises so that stooges like Bush and Romney become electable tools for the very rich. An educated electorate is anathema to the right wing.

    Teachers should be among the best paid of all professions. Look around you and see the results of degrading the profession and minimalized funding for educational facilities.

    It costs $50,000.00 a year to keep someone in jail. What if we spent a tenth of that amount on each student? What if class size was reduced so that each student could get individual attention? Ignorance breeds apathy and apathy is the goal of those who want to rape the community and the country for as much money and power as they can get.

    People who write in blogs like this complaining about all the money teachers make in pay and benefits and time off have allowed themselves to be manipulated by the people who would drain them of their wealth and future. A good education would change their minds….

    • Taking no responsibility August 20, 2012 at 11:02 am #

      Those who foam-at-the-mouth at the mere mention of tax dollars going to teachers are the jaded and graying “patriots” who forgot that the same educational system taught themselves and their kids. Unfortunately, I think most of these old and graying “patriots” did not plan for their future very well. They simply were not paying attention to what was happening in America with the rich getting even richer. Perhaps they didn’t put a dime into the social security program available to them (calling it “socialism”), watching their property depreciate believing they can buy and sell forever, and are now broke and blaming the bureaucrats rather than themselves for the situation they are in.

      • John Barton August 20, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

        Nice autobiography.

    • kaat August 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

      Ken – There you go again putting people into neat little political boxes. Seriously, anyone could take out the term “right wing” and insert “left wing” and your comments would hold the same truth. Stop dividing people and making your assumptions about where people stand politically based upon their opinions. You are not a mind reader.

  8. Great work Heidi! August 20, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Whenever there is a proposed millage increase to help support education, you see busloads of angry, grizzled older people piped into town to vote it down.

    Here is something directly from the Tea Party Patriots’ website re: education

    Since 1958, the U.S. federal government has radically increased its control over the education of America’s children and, in doing so, has limited the freedom and choice of parents and students. Tea Party Patriots believe in empowering parents and students to choose the best education options for themselves. Since 1965, federal education spending per pupil has more than tripled, while test scores and graduation rates have essentially remained the same. For instance, federal funding for K-12 education soared from $12.5 billion in 1965 to $72.8 billion in 2008, measured in constant 2008 dollars, having little to no impact on test scores or graduation rates. Dumping more money into a broken system isn’t working, and we now know that the recycled refrain of “more funding” isn’t the answer. Thousands of children are locked into a system that is destined to fail them, thereby failing the nation as well. For those of us that believe in the mission of education, fundamental reform of the educational institution is the only way to make progress and succeed in this mission.

    Heidi, you and other teachers should be held in high esteem – NOT Tea-partied.

    • Ken Warner August 20, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      “federal funding for K-12 education soared from $12.5 billion in 1965 to $72.8 billion in 2008, measured in constant 2008 dollars, ”

      The above ignores the population increase from the ’60’s to now, the general increase in the number of young people needing education and the number of immigrants who need special education to compensate for cultural and language differences.

      And it ignores the general increase in all expenses. Another example of a specious argument that could be easily discounted by an educated electorate and is used by those in power to increase their wealth and power.

  9. Heidi August 22, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    My mistake if my other comments diluted the comment I made about the high level of appreciation I have for the parents and parent teacher organizations I have worked with over the course of my career. If I insinuated blame toward the very people who make my job the most fantastic place to be, I apologize, because there’s NOWHERE I’d rather be than in a classroom full of kids. I am also fortunate to work in a district whose focus is children and their high achievement. I admire and support my colleagues and leaders in making sound decisions for the benefit of children.


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