RICHMOND -- The tug-of-war contract negotiations between the West Contra Costa school district and teachers demanding a pay hike is heating up.
At the board meeting Wednesday, school trustees were treated to a demonstration before hearing from employees for about 90 minutes about the need for higher salaries, preserving adult education, resisting the proliferation of charter schools and other issues.
Several speakers mentioned the recently reported $8 billion increase in state revenues, much of which will reportedly be earmarked for schools.
However, district Finance Director Sheri Gamba has pointed to the loss of students and revenue because of new charters and the need to bail out the State Teachers Retirement System as reasons to be prudent about increasing spending.
The district has the largest number of charters in Contra Costa County, and trustees have rejected charter petitions in the past that have later been approved by the county Office of Education.
United Teachers of Richmond members argued that their salaries are among the lowest in the Bay Area and that teacher turnover is a major problem in the district.
Teachers with a credential start at about $42,000 annually and top out at nearly $80,000 after 28 years on the job and more educational units. Teachers with a bachelor's degree and no graduate credits, the minimum required, begin at about $38,700.
"We have some of the lowest salaries in California despite the fact that we live in a high cost-of-living area," said UTR President Amanda Henderson. "Many teachers get a couple of years' experience and then move on to higher-paying jobs."
West Contra Costa used to offset lifetime medical benefits to its retirees, but the retiree benefits were phased out in 2010, and current employees contribute significantly to the cost of their medical coverage.
In other action, trustees agreed to amend the minutes of a closed session meeting on April 29 to reflect that they are pursuing an "independent forensic examination" of the district's school construction bond program rather than an "independent investigation," acting upon requests from district watchdogs Ben Steinberg and Tom Panas.
The forensic examination, prompted by a whisteblower's allegations of misconduct in management of the bond program, will entail hiring an attorney to present the board with a list of independent auditors from which trustees will choose to do the work.
The district's bond financing program is already under investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission.
Trustees also voted 3-2 against awarding a contract for the demolition of the former Harmon Knolls School, at 2853 Groom Drive in Richmond, at the request of officials of the Ujima Lodge who want to use it for its food distribution, computer skills training and other community programs.
Superintendent Bruce Harter told trustees that Ujima's plans are problematic since the facility is in need of extensive repairs and that other uses, such as charter schools, have a priority under the law if the campus is returned to use.
In other business, the board ratified a resolution of its Community Budget Advisory Committee that money from Measure D, its 2008 parcel tax, was spent within its stated purposes during the 2013-14 school year.