Negotiation angst at Fallbrook Union Elementary School District

The Fallbrook Elementary Teachers Association (FETA) members have had an ongoing dialogue with the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD), but are concerned about the accuracy and clarity of certain issues that have been presented by both sides.

On Jan. 19, FETA and FUESD negotiators met to begin discussions, and the district has had FETA’s contractual and economical proposals since September, said Ken Ostroske, FETA bargaining chair.

“However, we were given a presentation on how the district saw its budget. There was really no negotiating,” said Ostroske. “We were instead asked what proposals we would like to take off the table.

Then, the attorney cancelled the meeting that was set for the end of February and changed it to March 5, because they said they needed time to put their proposal together. We would like to know what the district has been doing all this time.”

According to Dennis Bixler, assistant superintendent of business for FUESD, the district did not have a delay in negotiations.

“In fact, FETA and the district set the schedule and the agenda for each session together,” stated Bixler. “FETA voiced no objection or concern when we agreed to reschedule this one session. If they had done so, we would have kept the date. This is not an issue.”

Bixler also stated the district and FETA have been meeting continuously since the beginning of the school year, and have made solid progress on important issues for students and employees.

“The Jan. 29 session was our very first session devoted to economics and we presented a lot of economic data and other information to FETA,” said Bixler. “As agreed, the district will be sharing its economic proposal at the next session and we believe it is positive, sustainable and responsible.”

“The association isn’t out to point fingers at the district,” said Ostroske. “We have had an ongoing dialogue between the association and the district, however, we have noticed there was an issue of accuracy in what the district was talking about. We had bargained over a number of sessions, and after reading the district’s negotiation updates, we saw a number of inaccuracies, and a number of proposals that had incomplete issues.”

According to Ostroske, a proposal that raised concerns was school class sizes and funding per student. Currently, classes in kindergarten to third grade have a ratio of 24 students to one teacher, with plans to implement reductions until class sizes are 20 to 21 students per teacher.

“This will be fully implemented over a period of years,” said Ostroske. “For each year the district makes growth toward the set target, it receives funds called grade span adjustment money. Simply by adhering, the district receives $729 per average daily attendance (ADA) of each student.”

According to Ostroske, this set growth target for the district is 10.8 percent of 24 students to one teacher. Next year, the set growth is 28 percent of 24 students per teacher.

“The district has said it is at risk of losing $219,000,” explained Ostroske. “However, if they make the two years’ growth toward the adjustment, they don’t lose the money.”

Ostroske explained that the necessary teachers, support staff and facilities for the adjustment would cost approximately $2 million, but that these funds were not included in the proposals.

The district had been given a proposal to have student-to-teacher ratios decreased to 24 to one; however with the governor’s grade span adjustment money, FETA removed the proposal from the table, he said.

“The issue would take care of itself, and it would be foolish to not take advantage of those funds,” said Ostroske. “According to the California Department of Education, Fallbrook has the third highest class size in San Diego’s elementary school district system. We need to get sizes down. Every minute you get with a student is crucial, and the time needs to be manageable.”

Bixler stated the district’s class sizes are comparable to similar districts in San Diego County.

“It is important to note that several of our comparable districts saw increases in class sizes coupled with significant reductions in salaries and benefits during the last several years,” he said. “Our district has increased compensation and salaries, and there have been no layoffs and no furlough days as there have been in the majority of districts across the state.”

In addition, FETA wanted the district to address teachers’ workloads and preparation time.

“Our association asked teachers what their workload was, and asked them to start charting how many hours spent outside of contract hours weekly, whether it was nights, weekends, holidays or planning done at home,” said Ostroske. “The results are staggering. Some teachers come in at 6 a.m., and leave at 5 p.m. It’s not that teachers don’t expect to work hard; in fact, we work harder, longer, more cohesively, and more creatively to improve instruction on all academic areas.”

FETA asked the district to agree to guaranteed prep time, and while there have been steps made toward a conceptual agreement, nothing has been set in stone. The concept was to hire more PE teachers to take students out, a grade level at a time.

“This would allow teachers to prep in their rooms, plan for their next periods, or meet with their independent grade levels,” said Ostroske. “We also proposed specifically defining what adjunct duties are.”

Ostroske stated that teachers’ duties outside of class, known as adjunct duties, reach “staggering hours.”

“We have made no progress with the district in this sense,” he said. “Teachers are a part of committees, bus duties, and meetings. The association’s concern is that we define what specific duties are absolutely necessary, so that we can be in our rooms prepping and planning. We are looking for adequate time to collaborate, grade, and write progress reports. In reality, what’s considered adequate is never really adequate. Two hundred minutes every two weeks is not a lot, but it’s something guaranteed that we know we will have.”

According to Bixler, FETA and the district have developed some excellent options for preparation time for all teachers.

“A prepared teacher has a huge, positive impact on student success. We understand the importance of preparation time,” said Bixler. “Last year we agreed to give teachers more preparation time before school. This year, we have agreed to more preparation time during student recess, and guaranteed contractual prep time for our junior high/middle school-level teachers.”

Bixler stated that there are good benefits to the PE model.

“What’s great about this idea is that it is a win-win for students and employees. The District proposal will provide a high quality physical education for elementary students, which will enable them to become healthier while their classroom teachers have time to plan lessons and activities to increase achievement,” he said. “Both teams have been very positive about the District’s proposal.”

“As for adjunct duties, this issue has been raised at the table over the past several years,” continued Bixler. “In many ways adjunct duties have been reduced, but the needs of students will continue to be our primary interest.”

Ostroske stated that FETA is asking for fair compensation in health benefits and salaries.

“Since the 2011-2012 school year, budgeting for teachers has gone down in Fallbrook, but has increased for supervisors by $500,000,” he said. “Fallbrook has the sixth highest administrator-to-pupil cost in San Diego County.”

“The district has claimed that Fallbrook was number one in salaries when it came to comparative districts,” said Ostroske. “Generally, the process involves selecting five (other) districts out of 41 comparative districts down towards South Bay. All of the school’s teacher salaries are added up, then averaged. However, that’s not how you should look at salaries; it is actually very difficult to do because of the governor’s new formula.”

According to Ostroske, an imaginary teacher should be walked through the steps of a salary schedule, and compared to a teacher’s salary. When this process is used, Fallbrook teacher salaries are “in the middle of the pack,” said Ostroske.

“We firmly believe that a fair contract with teachers is a fair contract with teachers,” he said. “When you have adequately prepared teachers with manageable class sizes, you have a good contract with students. Teachers are the number one determinant of success, and we want the district to recognize that priority.”

According to Bixler, the district is committed to responsible and sustainable total compensation increases, but FETA’s proposal exceeds a five percent compensation increase in just one year.

Bixler stated, “The governing board’s commitment to responsible and sustainable increases is crystal clear and statistics shared at the table with FETA underscore that commitment:

“FUESD is ranked first in San Diego County with comparable districts in total average compensation; FUESD is ranked seventh in all San Diego County Districts in total average compensation. Districts outperforming FUESD are not similarly funded districts; most FUESD teachers have received an increase of 24.5 percent in their compensation since 2006 through increases totaling 9.5 percent to the salary schedule in addition to regularly scheduled annual increases of approximately 2.5 percent provided each year for most teachers; and teachers have received one time bonuses totaling 10.5 percent since 2006.”

In terms of health and welfare and other fringe benefits, currently some employees pay a portion of the cost for their health and welfare benefits, stated Bixler.

“However, FETA has proposed that the entire cost of health and welfare benefits is solely the District’s responsibility. This is not realistic or sustainable,” he said. “Unfortunately, the association declined an opportunity to reduce benefits costs through plan modifications earlier this year. The district welcomes the opportunity to work with the association on strategies to reduce costs.”

Bixler stated the district will be sharing its economic proposal at the next session and believes it is positive, sustainable and responsible.

However, FETA members did not necessarily feel this was the case.

To show their concerns regarding the negotiations, FETA members organized a gathering at Village Square on Feb. 10 as a way to show support for each other and unite.

“It was less of a protest and more of an organizing action,” said Ostroske. “We made strides in our relationship with the district, and we are looking for a true working relationship. However, we want to let the board know we are going to organize and bring issues to community and district board when necessary.”

“We respect all that has been done in the community,” said Ostroske. “The students are working harder, parents are more involved, teachers are obviously working longer hours, and administrators are having impact. We are trying to get across that we need to shift priorities as an entire group, not separate segments of just the teachers, administrators, and parents; we are all in this together.”

Ostroske stated that FETA hopes to continue to engage, while staying away from the negative.

“The biggest thing to take away is that we want a positive resolution,” he said. “Going forward, all we want is a fair contract for students and teachers.”

25 Responses to "Negotiation angst at Fallbrook Union Elementary School District"

  1. Ray (the real one)   February 20, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    Fire them all and rehire new teachers, non union teachers.

  2. Ken Ostroske   February 20, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    I would like to thank The Village News for covering negotiations between FETA and FUESD. I met with their reporter on Friday, and there was much to discuss. With so much information, it is a daunting task to get everything that was discussed in 45 minutes into an article, so I would like to clarify and correct a few points.

    The negotiations were held the 29th, not the 19th. Grade span adjustments mandated by the state are to get DOWN to 24 to 1 in grades K-3, not 20 or 21 to 1. Currently, Fallbrook is FAR above 24 to 1, and needs to make serious adjustments to get down to state mandated levels of 24 to 1 in grades K-3 by the year 2020-2021.

    Regarding class sizes in grades 4-8, the association has a proposal on the table to reduce class sizes in grades 4-8 to 30 to 1, at a district estimated cost of $880,000.

    Additionally, the district had no proposal to make on the 29th, or on the 5th, and that was, the association was told, the reason they needed to cancel. It may not be an issue for the district that they were unprepared, it certainly was an issue for the association. Furthermore, the district claims that class sizes are comparable for similar districts across San Diego county. Fallbrook has the third highest class sizes for elementary school districts in San Diego County, according to the California Department of Education, as of the most recent released data of 2011-12.

    It is interesting that the district claims that adjunct duties have been reduced. We have seen absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever. It was further stated that the district is committed to responsible, sustainable increases for teachers. Fallbrook teachers have received exactly ONE on-going raise, 2%, in the last five years.

    The process used by the district to determine comparable compensation involved THE DISTRICT selecting five other districts, and adding up all the salaries to determine an average. This is certainly not a method that actually shows teacher compensation through the years. Nor does it include the other 36 districts.

    Finally, the district stated in its Negotiations News that Fallbrook teachers did not have to take furlough days, claiming these were unnecessary. In fact, the district attempted to negotiate SEVEN such furlough days for students and teachers in 2009-10. This attempt was rejected by teachers. Despite claiming to need furlough days for students and teachers, the district proceeded to build up $14.8 MILLION in unrestricted reserves in the years immediately following this claim for necessary furlough days.

    Again, FETA thanks The Village News for covering this story, and looks forward to working with FUESD towards a fair contract with the students and teachers of Fallbrook.

    Ken Ostroske
    Bargaining Chair

  3. Ken Ostroske   February 20, 2014 at 6:58 pm

    A final note. The district claims that FETA and FUESD set the agenda together. For Jan. 29th, this was not the case. The district did not bring an agenda, nor was one discussed. The district began the session stating specifically that they did not bring an agenda. Additionally, the negotiations the district said they needed to cancel were supposed to be for Feb. 5th, not the end of February. The two parties will resume negotiations on Feb. 26th.

    Ken Ostroske

  4. Ken Ostroske   February 20, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    The district has an interesting way of calculating increases.

    Raises and Yearly Increases in FUESD

    Superintendent —————15.5 % ———-$25,000 in TWO years

    Supt. of Business. Services –11% ———-$15,000 in THREE years

    Supt. of Ed. Services ———–7% ————–$10,000 in TWO years

    Supt. of Human Resources —–9% ————-$11,500 in THREE years

    TEACHERS ———————— 2% ————- in FIVE years

  5. Lee   February 20, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Show me the money, baby, and our children be darned!

  6. Interesting...   February 20, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Why isn’t the salary information for the F.U.E.S.D. district administrators posted on the district website?? Teacher and clerical salaries are there. Methinks the administrators have something to hide! I heard that they received huge increases last summer. Please check that out V.N.

  7. Bart   February 21, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Sometimes people expect certain professions to need less income and less control over the work environment than other professions. There is no point in speculating about why they think that way. The targeted professions do tend to those which in earlier times were mostly women. (Has anyone recently suggested that football stars be fired and replaced?) I think our economy has bought into a business model which assumes that the manager has a special talent (which I agree with) and that with the right manager the work can be so standardized that the people doing the work are interchangeable parts, so that you don’t have to worry about keeping good ones (I don’t agree with that part).

  8. Wally   February 21, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I would love to see the district counter with a proposal to accept all of the demands the teachers are making with the provision that they immediately relinquish their tenure and agree to a merit based compensation system in the future. The the district could then freely fire the underperforming teachers and hire, retain and reward the high achievers. Geez, that sounds a lot like how private companies successfully are run.

  9. The former   February 21, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    By all means, let us examine tenure, Wally. In order to get it, numerous years must be spent at temporary and probationary levels, with regular, multiple evaluations during each year. The administrators evaluating must then make a judgement about teacher effectiveness. You do not get tenure by showing up and being poor at your job. Those teachers are ultimately dismissed, and essentially told to look for a different line of work. If a poor teacher IS tenured, then that was a mistake on the part of at least one, usually several, administrators. Your argument is based on what you think the facts are, without any knowledge of them.

    Just out of curiosity Wally, in what private companies is the pay of the employees based on the performance of two days of testing results of 7 year olds? Correct. None. Look into, and do the research, on merit pay. The Department of Ed, if you bother to research and read (I know, I know, too much WORK!) came to the conclusion that merit pay fails. States that have had it dismantled it, or are dismantling it, for the very reason that it does not work. Some states are trying to bring it in, ignoring the body of research already done that shows its failure. The best system, Wally, is one in which the finest, dedicated people are recruited, compensated correctly, and trained properly. Merit pay stifles collaboration (why would I share my strategies when that will enable someone else to do as well or better, and thereby reduce my pay?) sows distrust among colleagues, and creates an environment where teachers will be berating those 7 year olds if they fail to get that last question right because their livelihood that year depends on it. Is that what you are advocating? That an already very stressful situation for young students and teachers be compounded? What kind of environment is that for kids? I certainly do not want MINE in that situation.

    Wally, try thinking things through. Do a little research. That way, you avoid spouting off recycled media soundbites that are proven not to work.

  10. Route 66   February 22, 2014 at 1:04 am

    Supervisors to Teachers, " nothing personal, it’s just business."

  11. Denny   February 22, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    The belief that "…Merit pay stifles collaboration…" begins with the premise that there are no benefits to teamwork and that we exist in a zero sum environment of people with no character, kindness or sense of community. How sad.

  12. Emily   February 22, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    AMEN to Comment #9!! Wally is ignorant and uninformed on recent research-based evidence. It would seem that Wally doesn’t do his homework!

  13. Lee   February 22, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    @ #11 Denny


    @ #9 The Former

    You can spin your bull anyway you like, but . . . you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

    Alpine’s elementary school teachers, I believe, are currently holding a strike. PLEASE show me where the teachers’ love of their kids is. PLEASE! The answer, my dear hoodwinking The Former, is that teachers in no way, shape or form love their kids; they love their wallets. And wallets only. If a person TRULY loves his/her students, then he/she has his rear-end in the classroom and holds negotiations OUTSIDE of the classroom and DOES NOT hold the kids "hostage" and as a bargaining chip. Comprende?

    Two, every member of our society, I can assure you, would LOVE to have their jobs tenured, believe-you-me. But the reality is that we don’t. So PLEASE explain to me (A) why teachers should have tenure, and (B) how this concept improves teaching and, hence, learning? PLEASE, I cannot wait for your argument. ALL that you are doing is hoodwinking people into your bull, and all that WE, THE PEOPLE are telling you is that we ain’t buyin’ your bull no longer. You, teachers, will simply have to love your job for the very same reason that the rest of society does also:

    Your job . . . which, in this case, is teaching. You DO love to teach, do you not, teachers?

    You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

  14. Lee   February 22, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Folks, or let’s do this the easy way.

    Teachers, are you willing to have 401Ks and Social Security like the rest of us? Yes or no.

  15. The former   February 23, 2014 at 12:06 am

    Not a premise, Denny, simply one of the many reasons cited for merit pay being counter-productive to a true collaborate environment. Teachers spend a great part of the day isolated from their colleagues. One teacher, 35 or more students. Recent models of built in collaboration time for teachers once or twice a week have only partially alleviated the problem. It is sad. It is sad that teacher worth is, in some uninformed eyes, to be determined by young children laboring for 3 to 5 hours each day on a standardized test for several days. That somehow that score should determine a year of pay. I wonder how many of us would be willing to bet our incomes on how our own children completed a task to perfection that they had to devote 100 percent focus to for 3 to 5 hours several days in a row. Maybe a few. It is completely illogical to think that model would be remotely useful in determining our worth to our professions.

    Which does not mean that standardized testing does not have its place. It does. It is one measure of how a child learned that year. Far from complete, far from infallible, and far from being able to determine the value of a teacher to my child for a school year.

    Emily, it is not so much that Wally and similar minds are ignorant per se, they are just uniformed as you stated. Our society is fast becoming one of point the finger and blame.

  16. yeah wally   February 23, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    wally you are the man

  17. Queen   February 24, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    WALLY…hear, hear! Lee, I’ll say it…..for once I am in agreement with you!!!

  18. Queen   February 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Wha’d we all do before 1867? Somehow, we managed.

  19. Lee   February 24, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    @ #17 Queen

    Thank you.

  20. Wally   February 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    Quite amusing how many institutionalized teachers still hold on to the concept of tenure. I can’t imaging working in an environment in which I receive the same percentage pay increase as the worst performing employee. Then again, if you’re the worst performing employee, it may not be such a bad deal.

  21. grunt   February 24, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Wally – ok, understand how tenure is granted; but WHY? The Marine Corps has a saying- ROAD program (Retired on Active Duty) for those Marines that get to a rank and time in service where they are guaranteed retirement (Not very many are on the road program) – but it takes 17-18 years to get there, and once on the ROAD program they are gone as soon as possible (20 years). I think a lot of teachers get tenure then stop trying- "no matter how hard /well i work, I get no promotion or pay raises above anyone else", "I can’t be fired now, why bust my butt?". Do away with tenure, then award good teachers (by administrators evaluation) with pay raises and bad teachers with re-training then firing. Why would this not work?

  22. grunt   February 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Sorry Wally- I agree with you- I meant "The former".

  23. the former   September 30, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Oh, grunt, really? Do you honestly think administrators have the slightest idea how to evaluate teachers? THEY can’t even agree! Do you really think teachers get into their professions, a POORLY paid one, spend all that time in school, earn advanced degrees, go through innumerable certifications, and then stop trying? Really??? Tenure, ladies and gentlemen DOES NOT protect bad teachers!

    The fact that people think that the tenure process protects poor teachers have no idea what they’re talking about, don’t understand tenure, or the process. There IS a removal process. All tenure does is ensure DUE PROCESS, and make it so that a jaded administrator can’t target a teacher who isn’t drinking the kool-aid of the month and fire them. It’s that simple.

    Do a little research, folks, before you sound off.

  24. the former   September 30, 2014 at 9:27 pm

    Oh, and grunt, "no matter how hard/well i work, I get no promotion or pay raises above anyone else". Find me a teacher who got into teaching for money, promotions, and raises. I’ll wait. It’s going to be a long, long, long wait, so I’ll just have a beverage while you dig one up.

  25. Secret Shoppers for Schools   December 2, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    If I could be paid as a secret shopper but for schools you would be surprised how much money is being spent on a lot of employees that are past their 20 years in the union. Regardless of years put in there are soooo many that to a "D-F" effort in their work. Schools have too many noon duties standing around talking and no in apporiate dress codes. Cross guards sitting at their posts when they are not supposed to be as stated in their job descriptions and they are out there way too long. Too many aides in classrooms when there is one to none ip students. It’s amazing how much could be helping the teachers, the ones that really care to teach, if you have the other employees doing their job and if you dont have more than you need. And yes I agree all higher paid staff members could be doing hidden agendas with their pay that I believe they should all be audited every year if not every 2 years.


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