Ceres Unified School District and its teachers union have yet to reach an agreement on a new employment contract as negotiations are ongoing.
Ceres Unified Teachers Association leadership and members attended Thursday evening's Ceres School Board meeting to direct district administrators to reach a fair settlement.
They wore black Ceres Teachers United shirts and held signs.
"Ceres Teachers, since 2009, have been receiving very little appreciation, respect, and professionalism from Ceres Unified School District," claimed Cheryl Brewer, president of Ceres Unified Teachers Association. "This attitude is not okay. It's past time for our teachers to obtain the contract they deserve."
"I strongly disagree with that characterization," said CUSD Supt. Scott Siegel, who pointed out that the 8.5 percent pay cut all CUSD employees agreed to take in 2010-11 to offset a $5.5 million budget gap has been fully restored. "The depth of the recession was not the fault of the district. It was a reality we had to deal with. It's not disrespect. I understand people are frustrated. The district has offered a raise. I don't know if pressuring the board is going to change the numbers."
"If we want something to happen, we have to stand up for what we believe in," said Al Fagundes, a 14-year eighth grade teacher at Blaker-Kinser Junior High. "We haven't gotten a raise this since 2008. I hope they give us something. We just want what's fair. I'm happy here. I'm not happy with this."
CUSD offered a 1.565 percent salary increase retroactive to 2013-14 and an additional one-time 1 percent bonus for its teachers.
The Ceres chapter of the California School Employees Association and CUSD administrators support the proposal.
Siegel also pointed out that CUSD increased health benefits $38 per month, up from $592 to $630, for the current year.
"We have several areas we have agreement on," Siegel said. "We're always willing to negotiate. It doesn't mean we're going to say yes to everything. I do want to emphasize we're offering a raise. As soon as we have an agreement, we'll get retroactive checks to our employees as fast as possible."
CUTA is asking for a 4.5 percent salary increase for its members.
"One of the reasons I brought my two children today is because whatever happens with our contract affects them at home and school," said Kristina Overman, a first-grade teacher at Hidahl Elementary School. "They're Ceres students. We're asking the district to negotiate and for a fair contract. The union is asking for 4.5 percent. We haven't had a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008. If the district is not willing to negotiate, mediation is the next step. We spend a lot of time and our own money to help improve the education of our own students. We just want to feel respected. We're going to stand together to fight for what's fair."
"We've put multiple offers on the table to end this," added Central Valley High School agriculture teacher/CUTA lead negotiator Ken Moncrief. "The district won't budge on their position."
"We're willing to work towards 4.5 percent," Brewer added. "We know there is money available."
The next date for negotiations will be on May 28.
"We're looking forward to reaching a settlement," Siegel said. "The offer we made is looking at our budget and figuring out what is available. We're not playing games. They want to punish the district because the economy had a downturn. They want us to dip in our reserves to give them more. It would not be fiscally responsible for us to spend our reserves for on-going salary costs. The board is not willing to put the district in financial jeopardy and peril. When there's a recession, we're going to need those reserves to weather the next storm. We don't want to be in a position where we have to go back to our employees and ask for money back."
"We love all of our employees," Ceres School Board trustee Mike Welsh said. "I know we pay our teachers very competitive salaries compared to other school districts. We'd like to give them more if we could. We're bound by the facts. We have to spend the taxpayers' money wisely."