Teachers in Santa Rosa's Bellevue School District have inked a deal with the district that will give teachers a 6 percent pay raise and an enhanced benefits package, an agreement both sides in the sometimes strained negotiations are calling a win.
The deal, brokered by a mediator, comes as tensions remain over the launch of a new charter school which has already started with a summer school program for the inaugural class of seventh graders.
But both the 100-member Bellevue Educators Association and Superintendent Alicia Henderson expressed satisfaction with the one-year contract, which will boost the pay of every teacher in the district while also adding 1.5 percent to the benefits package.
Teachers had pushed for 5 percent across-the-board pay raises and a 4.5 percent increase to medical benefits.
Henderson, entering her second year at the helm of the 1,700-student district, had advocated for greater equity between the district's beginning teachers and those across the county's other elementary districts. She also pushed to close the gap between beginning and veteran teachers within the district.
The majority of Bellevue's teachers are in the upper sections of the pay schedule and union officials had argued that a sharp boost to new teachers when compared with veterans was unfair.
The new deal pushes the salaries of Bellevue's newest teachers to a starting point of $41,897 without medical benefits. Those at the top end of the schedule could earn $87,759.
The salary increase is retroactive to July of 2012, but the increase to medical benefits kicks in this month.
The cost to the district in 2012-13 for the raises is slightly more than $400,000. The district's revenues for the upcoming school year are $16.6 million with a 25 percent reserve.
The deal retains the current system of annual pay boosts for teachers based on tenure, credentials and postgraduate work. Those boosts automatically add 3 to 5 percent to a teacher's pay each year.
"It's much better now for the employees," Henderson said.
"We are very, very pleased with our standing in the county now," Henderson said.
The agreement eliminates so-called bonus days that teachers could earn if they did not use sick days. It also phases out a district practice of letting teachers bank up hours and days of compensatory time earned for duties such as supervising kids in the classroom during rainy day lunch periods.
"We were concerned about having our teachers out so often," Henderson said of both sick and comp time.
While both sides of the deal said it is a good agreement, there remains lingering unease among teachers about the district's launch of Stony Point Academy, a charter school approved for kindergarten through 12th grade that will begin with just seventh graders on the Bellevue Elementary School campus next month.
"It's not that the idea of the charter school is a problem," said Heidi Kreklau, president of the Bellevue teachers union. "It seems like something that Alicia and the board are just doing to us."
Kreklau raised issues with a $200,000 loan from the district's general fund and the fact that the school will be non-union at the start.
The district board-approved loan must be paid back in three years. The school will be directly funded by the state under its charter so financial decisions can be made independently of district business.