Take A Look At School District' s Five-Year Fiscal Goal

Special to the Observer

How do we stand in regards to our school district's five-year goal of bringing district employees’ salaries up to “within” the median salary for L.A. County? Our district has been playing the salary game of keeping up with the Joneses for the last four-plus years. They have been trying to catch up with other, better state-funded districts in L.A. County by “reinvesting” our one-time district savings in across-the-board employee raises.

Playing Coy

Back in 2012 when this program of district raises was announced I asked the logical question, “What does ‘ within the L.A. County median salary’ mean?” The district did not offer any definition of “within” or what percentage might be seen as being “within the median.”The administration either did not want to paint itself into a corner or be held accountable over a figure. Over the past four-plus years this ever-increasing median salary has become an elusive target. This is because other districts with much more state funding than ours have continued to raise their own employees’ salaries at a faster pace under California’ s LCFF program.

Fool’s Game

Our district should have known what it was getting into by the public comments it received. But it started this increase-driven program, even though the district knew that under Gov. Brown’ s new funding program (LCFF) it would be receiving only 95.4 percent of the average funding of other LA County unified school districts and three percent less than it had received under the previous state block grants. The public warnings of the lack of future funding did not deter the School Board. Members still decided to set our district on this overly ambitious, five-year program.

We are now coming up on the fifth year. This should be as good a time as any to review how our district has fared. Back in 2012 we had $17 million in district savings. Today it is slightly under $10 million.

Where Did It Go?

For the past four-plus years the district has tried to keep pace with these better funded school districts by running up annual deficits to pay for employee salaries increases and then balancing its budgets with onetime savings from the Reserve Fund. Next year our district anticipates running a $3.0M deficit.

No Closer

Back in 2012 L.A. County’ s annual J-90 salary report showed our teachers’ salaries were 2.28 percent below the county median. After almost 25 percent in negotiated salary increases –nearly 40 percent in some cases – L.A. County’ s latest salary report shows our teachers have actually fallen further behind the county’ s median salary, by 2.7 percent.

After almost five years of the district “reinvesting our savings,” it seems our teachers are actually falling further behind.

Depends Who You Ask

Even though the district has yet to reach its intended goal can the program be considered a success? Depends on your point of view. Some will say yes. To the adult employees in the district, receiving raise after raise every year, their answer probably would be an unqualified YES! Annual raises have meant higher wages for them and, later on, larger, secured pensions when they retire.

The legislature has voted to more than double school districts’ CalSTRS payments from 8.5 percent in 2011 to 19 percent in 2019. School Board members need to remember that for every raise given to district employees the district’ s CalSTRS costs also are increased.

Back in 2011-12, in their bargaining agreement with the Teachers Union, the district reported the cost of teachers’ compensation, all funds combined, as $20.34M. This year’ s cost of our teachers’ compensation, all funds combined, is $28.56M, an increase of $8M in four years. Is this where the Reserve Fund’ s onetime money ended up? Next year, the District predicts its teacher compensation, all funds combined, will rise past $29.4M. When reviewing these district salary increases one must take into account that over that same four-year period, the administration has added 85 certificated staff, even though, district figures show that our enrollment (average daily attendance) had actually declined by 120 students.

Was this high-minded sounding goal, adopted by the School Board, just a good-sounding ruse to start giving district employees raises? If it was, it has turned into an almost $10M costly prank played on the public.

400 Percent Increase

Here is another statistic that shows just how much past salaries have increased during this program. Back in 2011-12, there were just 30 teachers whose employee compensation cost the district over $100,000. Last year, 120 teachers, a 400 percent increase. With this year’ s six percent increase still to be factored in, even more teachers will be moving into our district’ s $100,000 Club.

Not Quite There

I still find it strange that even after these significant salary increases our teachers are no closer to being paid at the L.A. County median than before. When are we going to reach this goal? Ever? Or will the school board just declare its “salary reinvestment” program a success and move on as if everything went according to plan?

What About Students?

Let’ s not forget about the students. They are supposed to be the reason why we are all here. Student test results are said to have risen, even though student achievement still looks to be a mixed-bag. This rise is due mostly to the re-shuffling of how the new California student assessment test results are being interpreted or spun by state and local educators. But our district achievement gap between minorities and other higher achieving students has not significantly closed during the past five years.

Bottom line, was this salary increase program really a success where it counts: For our students? After spending $10M increasing District salaries almost 25 percent, hopefully, our School Board members finally have learned this important and costly lesson: There is no direct correlation between what teachers are paid and what students learn!

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

I hope next time a district administrator comes up with a scheme about trying to keep up with the other better funded districts in L.A. County, the public will remind the School Board of this futile five-year fiscal flop and say, “No thanks.”


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