Continuing Progress in MPUSD through Partnership and Collaboration

Op-Ed printed in The Monterey County Herald on February 23, 2020.

Continuing Progress in MPUSD through Partnership and Collaboration
By PK Diffenbaugh

Over the past six years, the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and the Monterey Bay Teachers Association have partnered to make significant progress in improving salaries for our deserving teachers and staff. Since the 2012-2013 school year, teacher salaries have increased between 20% and 34%, with our most experienced teachers now earning over $100,000.

While we are proud of this progress, it is clear we have more work to do. Year after year we hear that teachers — especially our least experienced and therefore lowest-paid teachers — struggle to live and raise a family on the Peninsula.

In an effort to meet this challenge, MPUSD offered a multi-year agreement to MBTA that greatly improves compensation for beginning teachers while continuing to make progress across the board. The proposal would provide a salary increase of between 5.9% and 11.3% in 2020-2021 for teachers currently in Years 1 through 10 — 55% of district teachers fall into this category. The proposal also increases salaries for more senior teachers: on top of normal yearly “step and column” increases, teachers in Years 11 through 26 would receive a 3% off-schedule increase (equivalent to a one-time bonus) in 2019-2020, followed by an additional 2% on-schedule increase for 2020-2021.

This proposal would make a significant impact on the shared MPUSD and MBTA goal to reduce teacher turnover within the district. Last year, MPUSD lost 105 teachers and 76% of the teachers who left the district were in years 1 through 10 of their careers. The proposal to shift to a new salary scale would target resources to raise salaries by between 5.9% to 11.3% for these teachers in 2020-2021 compared to what they currently receive and establish that no teacher would make less than $50,000. The vast majority of the teachers indicated that the high cost of living was a primary reason for leaving MPUSD. This proposal would allow more teachers to stay and grow as educators within MPUSD.

MBTA rejected the district’s proposal, instead proposing an across-the-board 5% single-year salary increase for all unit members in 2019-2020. We deeply value our teachers and staff and agree that our educators, like educators everywhere, deserve to be paid much more for their service to our community. However, accepting MBTA’s proposal would accelerate MPUSD’s path toward a fiscal cliff. Similar to many districts in California, MPUSD faces rapidly accelerating retirement obligations, existing step and column salary increases, rising special education expenses, and the loss of revenue due to declining enrollment. Due to these factors, the cost of running the district increases approximately 3.5% per year — before any additional raises are added to projected expenses. Given this fiscal reality, a single year 5% across the board increase would result in MPUSD’s inability to meet our future financial obligations and lead to dramatic cuts to services, increased employee layoffs, and the potential for a negative certification of the district’s budget by the Monterey County Office of Education—the first step toward being placed in state receivership.

Because negotiations have not led to an agreement, MPUSD and MBTA have jointly declared a formal impasse, asking for an outside mediator to help us find common ground. Though impasse is not what either side wants, MPUSD remains steadfast in our commitment to bargain in good faith. Over the last six years, we have partnered with our labor unions to increase funding for arts, athletics, transportation, and mental health support, while also dramatically improving salaries for all employees. In many ways, in six years we have dug ourselves out of a deep hole and together have placed the district on solid ground. The positive relationship that we have established has been an integral part of this success. We are hopeful that an outside mediator can help us bridge the gap in a way that is both fiscally responsible and supports our exceptional educators to live and work on the Peninsula.

PK Diffenbaugh is superintendent of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.