State - INACTIVE

Ceres teachers face 8.5 percent pay cut

CERES — The Ceres school district gave teachers a final take-it-or-leave-it contract offer Tuesday, insisting they accept an 8.5 percent pay cut to save jobs and protect students from having their school year shortened.

The Ceres Unified Teachers Association was told it has until June 4 to agree to the final proposal or the district will implement it anyway. Teachers' only recourse then would be to strike.

The final offer was made after a marathon negotiating session Monday, which ended in deadlock about midnight.

"We need to assure our students get a full education this year," Ceres Superintendent Walt Hanline said Tuesday. "We've tried to give concessions to the union that would not hurt children."

The district wants to shrink the teachers' work year by three days, reduce the number of after-school meetings and open houses they must attend, and give every teacher the chance to take five school days off with pay for whatever reason they want.

In return, Hanline said teachers must agree to 8.5 percent across-the-board pay cuts. All the school district's administrators and non-teaching employees have agreed to similar salary reductions.

Ceres teachers on average earned $68,178 during the 2008-09 school year.

By cutting salaries, no Ceres teacher would have to be laid off, students' school year would not be shortened and class sizes would not be increased.

The salary reductions are needed, Hanline said, because the state has sliced the district's 2010-11 budget by 14 percent. That's about $11 million.

"We don't have any problem taking our fair share of the cuts," assured union President Cheryl Brewer. "But one of the (budget-cutting) options is to close down schools five extra days a year."

Brewer said the district could save millions if it would reduce the number of student instructional days to 175 days from 180 days.

Many school districts throughout budget-strapped California plan to do just that, including Modesto City Schools.

Brewer said teachers would be willing to take a 5.4 percent pay cut if their work year is shortened by seven days (including five fewer teaching days and two fewer preparation days).

Teachers ask for longer day

To protect children's education, Brewer said teachers have proposed teaching 10 extra minutes per day. She said that would give students the same number of minutes in schools next year as this year, even though there would be five fewer school days.

"When you're trying to teach children, lengthening the school day is not the same thing as having additional days of education," Hanline countered. "It does not equate."

Union leaders and administrators have different views about the value of permitting teachers to take "no tell days" off with pay.

"That's nothing," insisted Brewer, noting that teachers already are allowed to take seven paid "personal necessity days" off each year. "All they've done is change the name to 'no tell days' and (eliminated the need) to fill out a request form."

Brewer said teachers, for example, already can use a personal necessity day to skip school on a Friday so they can conveniently attend an out-of-town wedding during the weekend.

The no-tell days would mean teachers could take a paid day off for any reason they want and whenever they want.

Hanline said some public employees just don't understand how good they have it.

"In private industry, people are taking pay cuts and working as much if not more than ever because the world's economy is shrinking," Hanline said. "Why should government employees provide less service and force children to suffer rather than make sacrifices themselves?"

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.

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