Wearing all black and stickers saying “Come Back to the Table,” a crowd of teachers and support workers flooded the board room of the Lake Elsinore Unified School District Thursday night. Many had to sit in hallways or outside, where chairs and a loudspeaker were set up.
They were there to ask the district to call off the impasse with the teachers union.
“We are wearing black to show solidarity amongst our members in the grievous decision the district has made to stop all negotiations with our union negotiators after only less than an hour of negotiations and after only one offer was presented,” said Lori Edwards, a first-grade teacher at Butterfield Elementary who has worked for the district for seven years and is facing layoff.
Patti Bailey, a California Teachers Association staff member, came to the meeting.
“The teachers have a message, that they want the district to come back to the table,” Bailey said. “During impasse, the district could come back to the table at any point but they haven’t shown they have wanted to.”
Two hours into the meeting, after district management gave fiscal transparency and budget presentations, the teachers got their chance to address the board.
“To be perfectly blunt we know why you are here,” Board President Tom Thomas said.
Steve Dennison, a teacher a Lakeside High School, was the first to approach the board. Public comments were limited to three minutes per person.
“I come before you tonight to say…” Dennison paused, as teachers stood behind him, and his three minutes wound down in silence.
“…That silence accomplishes nothing. Please come back to the table.”
Bill Cavanaugh, a Lake Elsinore Teachers Association bargaining team member, said just at the moment when movement started for the association, the district “pulled the plug” by calling impasse.
“This could be disastrous…the mood, the movement and the effect on students. For the sake of the district, its employees and its students, come back to the table.”
Several others spoke, some teachers crying at the microphone.
“Emotionally, I don’t feel safe. I don’t trust my district. I need your help. Six hours of negotiations and then impasse is called?” said one elementary school teacher.
According to a fiscal transparency report given at the meeting by George Landon, assistant superintendent of fiscal support services, the district has lost $1,407 in funding per student since 2007/2008, leaving it with at $29.4 million funding reduction in 2010/2011.
With an expected $19.9 million shortfall for next year, Landon said the district has made up $9.5 million of it through eliminating five management positions, imposing a 10 percent pay cut on all management, closing Butterfield Elementary, reducing transportation and cutting back on magnet school funding, along with other cost-saving measures.
To make up the remaining $10.7 million needed to balance the budget, district officials said they are looking to the employees. An 8 percent reduction in pay for all employees would save the district $9.6 million, leaving it $1 million away from where it needs to be, according to Landon.
Following the hour-long public comment portion of the meeting, the board called a brief closed session meeting. Many said they hoped the board would decide to end the teachers’ impasse and come back to the table.
“We’ve agreed we are going to stay at impasse,” said Thomas after the closed session. “These aren’t regular negotiations. The reason we left the table is because we need the 8 percent so we can keep the class size reductions and virtually every job. But LETA came back with 3.8 percent. Eight percent means you don’t buy a new car, 100 percent means you lose much more.”
Board member Kim Cousins said statements made by teachers had insinuated the inaccuracy of the district’s fiscal outlook.
“That is very disturbing to me,” Cousins said. “Certainly, if we are at an impasse, an outside agency will come in and view it. And if there are extra funds and the conditions improve, we’ll give it back to our employees.”
“We do want to work together and find solutions, but constantly being told we are dishonest is not the way to go either,” said board member Jeanie Coral.
Legal counsel will now be involved in the negotiations. According to the Lake Elsinore Teachers Association, it could take until May before a hearing is held.