Ceres school workers set for 8.5% pay cut

CERES -- Classified school employees would accept an 8.5 percent pay cut under a tentative labor agreement with the Ceres Unified School District.

Negotiators for the district and roughly 500 unionized employees reached agreement Thursday on terms of a three-year contract. The employees, including office workers, custodians, food service workers and bus drivers, are expected to vote next week on whether to ratify the deal.

The school board will consider approving the contract at its May 6 meeting.

District officials asked everyone from administrators to teachers to office staff to take the same pay cut as a major step toward closing a $10 million budget gap. With the salary savings, the district won't have to lay off staff or eliminate student programs such as music or athletics, officials said.

The school board in January approved the 8.5 percent salary cut for more than 100 nonunion employees, effective July 1; administrators who work under contract with the district agreed to take the same cut.

"We are grateful the employees are working with us in the interest of preserving programs for kids and preserving jobs," said Deputy Superintendent Scott Siegel. "We understand we need to reinstate the salaries as fast as we can. But under the economic circumstances, we don't know when that will be."

Representatives of the California School Employees Association, which represents the classified workers, said they recognized the district is in an economic crisis. The union accepted the pay cut on the condition that a process is created to restore the salaries.

"If the state budget improves, we can reopen salary talks at any time," said Paul Barragan, a CSEA labor relations representative. The deal includes a "me too" clause restoring their pay if salaries are restored for administrators.

The school district also promises no layoffs for one year and agrees to let employees take three or four furlough days as compensation for losing pay. Employees also get an extra $20 a month to help with rising health insurance premiums.

The pay cut will be tough for the school employees. The average salary of the full- and part-time workers is just under $30,000 a year.

"The goal is to restore pay as fast as we can get this restored," said Richard Layne, president of CSEA Chapter 140. "I think our members are more angry with the state than anyone else. The state keeps going after the school districts for money."

Ceres Unified and the teachers union are in mediation. The two sides are proceeding to the fact-finding process, in which the district will disclose numbers to try to justify the pay cut.

The teachers have said there is room for trimming the school district budget in other areas. In their view, the pay cut for administrators is misleading because they received substantial raises last year.

Siegel countered that administrative staff received their normal step increases on the salary schedule last year.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at 578-2321 or