To address its budget crisis, the Pasadena Unified School District submitted a mandatory Fiscal Stabilization Plan to the County of Los Angeles in February and then took a major step in implementing that plan by issuing over 100 preliminary teacher and administrator layoff notices for the 2018-19 year by the legally required March 15 deadline. This plan reduced expenditures for the current 2017-18 year by about $4 million and by over $12 million for the 2018-19 year. The board then adopted its second interim budget on March 15, per county requirements.   

To try and reverse as many of the preliminary teacher layoffs as possible, the PUSD has offered a retirement incentive to its senior teachers. This would minimize the number of layoffs of more junior teachers and also the disruptive effect of teacher turnover to school sites, some of which had over 10 teachers receive layoff notices. 

The United Teachers of Pasadena’s (UTP) bargaining position (despite not surveying — until just this past week, results not shared yet — the many teachers who would like this retirement incentive to be enacted) has been that they won’t agree to this retirement incentive unless we agree to use the savings from it to provide raises for teachers in 2017-18 and 2018-19. Despite the PUSD’s obvious budget challenges described above, UTP has insisted on raises, even when our county-appointed fiscal adviser met with them to explain the situation. Throughout the crisis, they have been steadfast in their request for a 3 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2017 and another 3 percent increase on July 1, which reminds one of the 6 percent raise they complain was so hard to get in 2015-16. In addition, during a month of trying to get the UTP to agree to accept the retirement incentive, the district increased its retirement incentive offer and extended the timeline for it, but UTP has not budged in its insistence on tying the offer to raises. They have claimed that the retirement incentive would generate many millions in “surplus money.”

The second interim budget approved by the board on March 15 shows that over $8 million in reductions will be needed for the 2019-20 school year in order to maintain the state-required 3 percent reserve. That means that during the 2018-19 school year, for which over $12 million in reductions has already been made and which is not very far away, we will be trying to find $8 million in further reductions or more revenue so that we don’t have to lay off more staff.  We will have to submit a new Fiscal Stabilization Plan with the first interim budget in December. So describing any savings as “surplus money” is fallacious. That money simply doesn’t exist when you are already making reductions and faced with declining enrollment, corresponding flat revenue, and the annual significant mandatory cost increases described in detail above. This is magical thinking, and it is why no one can find any record of any district ever agreeing to any such use of any savings from retirement incentives, which are notoriously difficult to calculate given the many variables affecting rehiring. 

Yes, the 6 percent raise agreed to in the settlement in the spring of 2016 was difficult. The other two PUSD bargaining units had agreed to much smaller raises much earlier in the 2015-16 school year. But that same 6 percent raise is now a documented part of our budget challenges, as is the large increases in costs that are invisible to employees like mandatory pension increases, health care cost increases, workman’s compensation costs, etc. So pushing hard for that raise has contributed to our current challenges. Pushing hard now for raises just prevents the district from reducing the number of layoffs. 

The board and many fellow parents and teachers earnestly hope that the UTP leadership will help us retain as many of their colleagues as possible and agree to the retirement incentive without further delay and without insistence on raises that the county wouldn’t allow anyway. We also encourage all of the concerned parents and teachers to lobby the leadership to survey their membership so that all members can weigh in on this important issue. 

Scott Phelps is a member of the Pasadena Board of Education.