Teacher contract talks in Bellevue district at an impasse

  • Heidi Kreklau, the president of the Bellevue Educators Association, works on a science project with Ana Lugo, 10, left, and Hilda Cuevas, 11, in her 5th grade class at Meadow View Elementary School. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Teacher contract talks in the Bellevue School District in south Santa Rosa have reached an impasse over pay, compensatory time and sick leave at a time when tensions also have flared over the district's plan to open a non-union independent charter school this summer.

The debate over pay raises and expanded benefits marks a sea change for school districts that in recent years have wrestled with layoffs and deep cuts to programs. The passage of Proposition 30 in November gave districts some financial breathing room and Bellevue, with its high rate of poverty, stands to gain in future budgets if Gov. Jerry Brown's local-control funding formula goes into effect.

The Bellevue School Board approved a charter for Stony Point Academy in January and in March the State Board of Education approved the establishment of a kindergarten through 12 grade school that will offer a a mix of homeschool, online and classroom instruction. The district currently is enrolling seventh graders only for the 2013-14 school year.

Union officials have accused the district of launching the new school without input from labor groups while using district funds to establish an independent charter school that will not directly benefit the district's four elementary campuses.

Bellevue has the highest percentage of students living in poverty of any of Sonoma County's 40 school districts. It also has the second-lowest district-wide academic scores based on state figures among the county's elementary school districts.

<NO1><NO>Citing a need to draw top-level teaching applicants, first-year superintendent Alicia Henderson has proposed restructuring the salary scale to increase entry level pay rates by $4,715 a year — a $13.2 percent hike. She also proposes boosting top-level salaries by $4,261, a 5.6 percent hike, and increasing the district's contribution to teachers medical benefits by 1 percent. The changes would increase compensation expenses by $337,000 a year, about 6 percent. Individual teacher's raises would vary from 3.6 percent to 13.2 percent.

Teachers have countered with a push for a 5 percent across-the-board raise along with a 4.5 percent increase to medical benefits, a package that would cost $553,000 in ongoing expenses, according to the district.

Both proposals would retain the current system of annual pay boosts for teachers based on tenure, credentials and postgraduate work. Those boosts automatically add 3 percent to <NO1><NO>5 percent to a teacher's pay each year.

Henderson said uniform across-the-board raises will not address the salary inequities that show Bellevue has the largest pay disparity in the county between beginning teachers and those at the top end of the scale.

<NO1><NO>The district's proposal would increase entry level teacher pay from $35,803 excluding medical benefits to $40,518. The 16 teachers at the very top of the current salary scale would see their compensation without medical benefits go from $75,908 to $80,169. Salary costs across the board would average a five percent increase.

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