Jennifer Regier, who teaches third grade at De Vargas Elementary School, joined other employees of the Cupertino Union School District demonstrating at last week's school board meeting. An estimated 80 members of three unions filled the meeting room.
As she presented plaques of appreciation to outgoing Los Altos School District trustees on behalf of the Los Altos Teachers Association, President Cathy Gilliard told the school board last week that the unions' members "feel respected and treated as professionals."
"I can't imagine a better place to work," she said. "It's the result of many years of cooperation ... and hard work."
On behalf of the support staff union, the local chapter of the California School Employees Association (CSEA), President Sherry Hakes echoed Gilliard's remarks.
A few miles away on the following night, a different group of teachers agreed that the neighboring elementary school district is a great place to work. The Cupertino Education Association (CEA) led the addresses by three unions to the trustees of the Cupertino Union School District during the 15-minute public comment period of the regular board meeting.
The CEA, the Cupertino CSEA and Local 715 Service Employees International Union form what SEIU President George McGruder called "a three-cord rope - virtually impossible to break."
"We have a plan we hope we don't have to use," said CEA President Janice Hagerbaumer.
Union representatives said the district has the money to raise salaries for nonadministrative personnel; administrators say they're offering what the district can afford.
Last spring, the Cupertino district eliminated some positions on its administrative staff and consolidated functions into business services and human resources, giving those administrators $20,000 raises. To the unions, these increases indicate deeper pockets than the district is willing to show them.
Union representatives argue that the increase in the district's ending balance for five consecutive years indicates that more money is available for employees' wages and health benefits. District CFO Rick Hausman said late last week that those balances have risen because of an infusion of $4 million in one-time funding from several sources. Without that infusion, last year's ending balance would have been $500,000 instead of $3.48 million, he said.
"We can't spend one-time money on ongoing salaries," Hausman said.
The teachers union said teachers' salaries have declined by 1.92 percent and principals' salaries rose by 0.44 percent in comparison with the total budget in the past few years.
"In terms of raw dollars, the amount of money we spent on teachers was $44.4 million in 2001 and rose to $48.5 million in 2005. That may be less of the total budget, but we get money for all kinds of reasons, not just teachers' salaries," Hausman said.
The CFO said 16 of the district's 25 principals moved up a step in the salary schedule, accounting for the percentage increase. Principals receive automatic increases for their first five years of employment, then cost-of-living increases only. Teachers receive automatic increases for 30 years, Hausman said.
He added that every employee of the district, from Superintendent Bill Bragg to the custodial crew, pays the same amount for health and other benefits.
"We provide equally for all employees. Every employee has the same benefits," Hausman said.