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April 21, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 21, 2004

With reservations, Sequoia district settles contract with teachers With reservations, Sequoia district settles contract with teachers (April 21, 2004)

By David Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer

Trustees of the Sequoia Union High School District narrowly approved a three-year contract with the district teachers' union that raises salaries 1.8 percent and 0.4 percent over the next two years. The union wanted a 3 percent raise.

The trustees voted 3-2 at the March 31 board meeting. Board president Don Gibson voted to approve, but said he did so reluctantly.

Negotiations took seven months, in part because every aspect of the contract was open for discussion, said Mike Radoye, president of the Sequoia District Teachers Association, in an interview. In each of the next two years, salaries plus one other item can be reopened for further negotiation.

"We understand that we're not looking at the kind of settlement we had three years ago" when the economy was better, said Mr. Radoye. A 1.8-percent raise for teachers represents about $900,000, said trustee Gordon Lewin in an interview. The district has a budget of some $70 million.

The new contract eliminates a $600 reimbursement for health care co-payments, but boosts compensation by $500 in addition to the raise. Summer school teachers will also receive year-round health-care coverage for the first time.

In addition to Mr. Gibson, trustees Sally Stewart and Lorraine Rumley voted for the contract, while trustees Olivia Martinez and Mr. Lewin opposed it, citing economic uncertainties as the principal reason. The "no" votes came with lectures from the trustees.

Ms. Martinez said the teachers need to remind themselves that the district won't be meeting its goal of a 5 percent reserve and that the community expects "fiduciary responsibility" from the board. Mr. Radoye said state law now requires only a 1.5 percent general reserve.

The Sequoia district maintains three reserve accounts, said Mr. Lewin. Along with the 5 percent reserve for unspecified uses, another $400,000 is set aside to rebate property tax payments to owners whose property was reappraised at a lower value. The district has paid $138,000 out of this account this year, Mr. Lewin said.

Charter schools are another concern, Mr. Lewin said. The state is in the process of extracting itself from paying for charter school students located in relatively well-to-do districts such as Sequoia. But the law is still vague as to how much Sequoia will have to pay for each district student who chooses to attend a charter school inside the district's boundaries.

Protest protested

Mr. Lewin, while saying that he sympathized with the teachers' frustration during the lengthy negotiations, said he voted no to signal his disappointment with teachers who "acted inappropriately" by locking their doors at lunchtime and during club meetings, making themselves unavailable to students.

"Parents always try to keep kids out of a fight. In essence, this brought them in," Mr. Lewin said.

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