By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Teachers demand fairness
Anticipating a large crowd of protesting teachers, Ceres Unified moved last Thursday's Ceres School Board meeting.

More than 225 teachers packed into Central Valley High School's cafeteria, some armed with signs and buttons.

Cheryl Brewer, Erin Bright and Robin Williams were among the 14 people who spoke about the district's proposal to cut employee salaries by 8.5 percent in 2010-11 to pare down a $5 million to $6 million budget deficit.

Brewer, president of Ceres Unified Teachers Association, represents 617 employees.

"I was really pleased with the mutual respect that went on in the meeting," said Brewer later. "You heard the passion. We're hopeful that an agreement will be reached."

"The negotiations process is tearing us apart," said Bright, a third-grade teacher at Carroll Fowler Elementary. "We're asking the district to see our effort and side. We need to work together."

Robin Williams, a teacher at Ceres High for the last 16 years, feels under-appreciated.

"I'm discouraged that the board doesn't recognize our commitment to students," she said.

Board members Jim Kinard and Eric Ingwerson offered words for employees.

"We appreciate everything teachers accomplish in this district," said Ingwerson. "None of us want to reduce salaries but we're attempting to keep all CUSD employees employed. These are difficult choices in difficult times."

"We're at a crossroads," commented Kinard, a former Ceres teacher. "Anytime someone's asked to take a pay cut, there's going to be strong emotions. Everyone shares the pain."

Unable to reach a compromise with CUTA and CSEA, Ceres Unified sought assistance of a state mediator, said Jay Simmonds, assistant superintendent of student services for CUSD. "We're at impasse," said Simmonds. "It's all confidential. We can't talk about it."

Said Brewer: "It's a legal process. It's not what's fair or right. It hinders communication in my opinion."

Added Ceres Unified Deputy Supt. Scott Siegel: "Hopefully, we'll be able to work something out."

CSEA, which represents 513 employees, reached a tentative agreement with CUSD during mediation Thursday afternoon. The proposal calls for an 8.5-percent salary cut, part of which could be given back if the budget improves.

There will be no layoffs for classified filled positions during the upcoming school year.

The deal offers four furlough days for 12-month employees and three furlough days for 10-month employees.

The district will increase its contribution for health and welfare benefits by $20.

"We came up with a reasonable solution," Simmonds said.

Richard Layne, president of CSEA, will take the proposal to his membership for a vote at a ratification meeting on April 29.

"Before, it was 8.5 percent across the board, and no guarantees," he said. "That was our biggest concern. This might give people some peace of mind."

"I'm appreciative of their leadership's willingness to work with us," said Siegel.

"I'm very happy for them," Brewer added. "They have to do what's best for their members."

The Ceres School Board voted unanimously on Jan. 21 to adopt a resolution that decreases salary of administrators, classified management and confidential employees by 8.5 percent, effective July 1, 2010.