Budget crisis causes controversy

Due to the Walnut Valley Unified School District’s $4.7 million deficit spending each year, the district has asked teachers to accept the possible reduction of salaries and benefits in addition to furlough days, six for the next semester and twelve each for the next two school years.

However, Salli Collins, a Walnut Valley Educator Association negotiator, commented that the union feels that the problem is the district’s spending of budget. “The association believes that the district has a spending problem and has yet to formulate a plan to get their spending under control. [The furloughs] are a band-aid fix and if they do not come up with a plan, the district will continue to deficit spend beyond the next three years,” Collins said.

Just last week, the district declared a “negative certification,” which means that it is unable to pay its bills for this school year. The official fiscal status will be reviewed by the Los Angeles County Office of Education which could lead to its taking over control of the district’s budget. In response to this financial crisis, the district is considering issuing furlough days to cut salaries, reducing health care benefits, suspending the step and column salary increases, and reviewing class-size limits. Though the district plans to cut teacher funds, there are currently no plans to cut from any academic or athletic programs. These terms were deemed not negotiable.

“The association is willing to sit down and discuss the deficit spending, but [the district is] not willing to do this. We do not feel we are the problem to the district’s deficit. Teachers have had three retirement plans in the past five years in order to retire higher-paid teachers. We have also not added to the deficit in health care benefits and have no cost of living adjustment since 2007,” Collins commented. Numerous phone calls to the district for comment on the issue were not returned.
Because the negotiations reached a stalemate, the district declared impasse. An impasse, which is usually a two to three month process, means that, because no agreement was reached, both groups will go to an unbiased mediator to present their stance. The mediator will bring the two groups together to reach an agreement. If the impasse fails, then teacher contracts will be suspended, and the district would be able to issue furlough days as it sees fit.

Teachers, as a form of protest, could withdraw from participating in activities they are not required by contract. According to many teachers on campus, this would include advising clubs, staying for extra help during lunch and afterschool hours, and writing letters of recommendation.

As of now, both parties have agreed on three minor items. WVEA members hope to reach more agreeable terms. Before the impasse, the district and association may meet anytime to work on an agreement.