District Meeting Audio Confirms Long Suspected Budget Manipulation

Despite the passing of Proposition 30 in 2012, the School Board voted to “pink slip” teachers at its March 6, 2013 meeting saying it was necessary in order to balance the budget for 2013-14. They even claimed less state funding for the 2013-14 school year. We now know that total funding increased to $59 million in 2013-14, up from $55.3 million in 2012-2013, according to figures filed with LACOE, and that most of the increase is attributable to additional funds from the state.

While nearly two dozen teachers were losing their jobs inside the building for political instead of economic reasons, negotiations chairman Adam Geczi attempted to explain to the public in an interview with reporter Serene Branson that the District was manipulating its budget and the layoffs were not necessary. He pointed to the Books and Supplies category as a particular area of interest, suggesting that the District was not being truthful about its allocation of funds, effectively hiding money by inflating that category. Blindly commenting on the iPad program, Dr. Michael Matthews inadvertently confirmed this with the reporter. Press play below or click here for audio bite from the newscast. The full video is available here. Soon after, the district “found” $800,000 in Books and Supplies. While the District did not spend the money on books, per Matthews, it may have spent the remaining portions on iPads and related costs. The District has not shared invoices related to these expenses and has to answer to an MBUTA initiated Unfair Labor Practice Charge issued by PERB at an upcoming May 13-15 hearing.

A year later, on March 19, 2014, finance chief, Dr. Rick Bagley unexpectedly exposed the way money is hidden in various line items throughout the budget, including Books and Supplies, during his presentation of the second interim budget report. While discussing funding for professional development, Bagley said “we put the Common Core dollars into expenditures; we basically parked them as place holders in different places on our… on our expenditure warrants” which they later “needed to internally adjust by moving some of what [they] have parked under Books and Supplies over to certificated salaries”. Press play below or click here for the audio bite.

The District continues to hide money in Books and Supplies, a larger amount than before. This category was $1.5 million in 2010-11, became a $3.3 million projection to 2013-14 (in 2012) and has ballooned to $3.8 million with about $1.4 million “specified by the donor” for Books and Supplies from Fund 6.  Assuming that ASB and booster monies from MBAF (MBX) are not specified for the purchase of books and supplies directly related to instruction, PTA money once included in Fund 1 is now pulled out and presented as another definitionally restricted item in Fund 6 (normally reported under Fund 1). While this may have been caused by a reporting requirement update (MBUTA has found no evidence of this), the adjustment should have left a gaping hole in Fund 1. Instead of the $1.4 million hole, there appeared a $2.4 million mound of state and federal funds.

All of this leaves open three options. MBUSD is overspending on books and supplies, which Matthews publicly denied; MBUSD increased spending on unknown items such as iPads and related costs, which Matthews also denied publicly; finally–figures in the budget are being manipulated to distort the District’s true state of financial health which keeps teachers fearful for their jobs, undermines the union’s ability to garner community support for a salary adjustment which maintains our healthcare benefits, and misleads the now fearful community into donating to various supplemental MBUSD fund sources to “save” the allegedly financially fragile district. This strategy increases reserves and provides the ability to boost discretionary spending. That is the priority of MBUSD and this Board.

In the last decade, teacher salaries have funded construction cost overruns, special education encroachments, iPads and related technology, and now they are asked to pickup increases in healthcare and subsidize Common Core training with the differential between their professional daily rate and $38 per hour. Teachers are also going to be required to use their already scarce prep time to prepare substitute lesson plans and attend bits and pieces of training on Common Core instruction, while real dollars are spent on overpriced consultants.

District Meeting Audio Confirms Long Suspected Budget Manipulation

Details Concerning Current Bargaining Issues

It is our duty as your MBUTA elected leaders to provide you with all the details concerning your health and welfare benefits, salary increase(s), and professional development–as those items stand today at the negotiating table. The email you received from Dr. Matthews on March 26 paints with a broad brush, and as we know, the devil is in the details.  The following bulletin is meant to fully address the issue of healthcare, the MBUSD budget, and MBUTA’s advocacy for our members.

The facts about our Health Care benefits:
Under our current contract the district’s annual contribution toward teachers’ health and welfare benefits is equivalent to 80% of the teachers’ annual premium costs (section 17.2 Master Contract). The 80/20 split has helped to offset an even bigger hit to our wallets the last 10 years; as we’ve weathered an ever-decreasing purchasing power due to lack of consistent salary increases, our financial burden of fluctuations in health care costs has been minimized because of the assurance this agreement provided. Under the district’s proposal, we would bear a greater financial risk–one that exposes us individually to a greater degree than the district would experience as a whole. The plan places a cap on spending levels and anything beyond a 3% increase in the first year would be passed along to teachers, (recently we’ve seen about 5 to 6 percent increase per annum though in some years it has reached as high as 13%), thus dipping into, or completely negating, any salary increase we would have negotiated. Taken the most conservative assumptions, the employee share of monthly family coverage could increase from $371 today to $1750 or more after 15 years, compared to $932 under the 80/20 plan. That is $8180/year of lost purchasing power. We would need to insure a 15% increase in salary in the next 15 years for a mid-schedule teacher just to compensate for that loss and we have yet to give consideration to 15 years of inflation which can conservatively exceed 35 percent.  We would have to average an annual 3-4% salary increase just to keep from falling behind. In the last 6 years, we have been able to secure only 3% in total, and only with a fight. The 80/20 split provided built-in protection and will continue to do so, but only if maintained.

Our current budget is astounding. In Rick Bagley’s board presentation on March 19 he stated that we have a 5% reserve and our budget is projected to erase 28% of the funding gap (missing money toward where funding should be) in 2015 and 33% in 2016. A closer look at MBUSD’s budget reveals that the District has decided to stash 5% in a reserve for economic uncertainty when the state requires 3%, and elsewhere in the General Fund, there is nearly another 7% that is undesignated. This means that instead of the 5% claimed by Rick Bagley, there is in reality a nearly 12% reserve (and this is before looking at the District’s other funds that each hold their own reserves). Even closer scrutiny exposes the District’s ongoing strategy of greatly overestimating expenditures and ridiculously underestimating revenue. In light of this disingenuous presentation of the District’s financial standing, we must continue to urge our members and the public to question every statement the District makes about its ability to compensate us fairly.

Do we think it’s reasonable for our members to take on the financial burden of unknown fluctuations in healthcare costs when our district’s financial situation is the best it’s been in 10 years? Of course not. Our negotiating team will continue to advocate for our members to maintain the 80/20 split when we meet with the district and mediator on April 17.

In the meantime, it is untenable that Dr. Matthews’ would propose a “health insurance committee” as it is akin to asking teachers to join the district’s side of the negotiating table. We dissuade you from undermining the hard work of our negotiating team by signing up for Dr. Matthews committee. Additionally, we are concerned about the invitation issued by Dr. Matthews for you to address questions about negotiations to him. MBUTA is the sole representative of our members, and we are charged with interpreting the impact negotiations will have on your working conditions. While Dr. Matthews is within his rights to address the employees under his supervision, his remarks regarding “MBUTA members” approaching him for information are out of line and possibly a violation of labor law. He should exercise greater discretion when referencing private email correspondence not addressed to him and not intended for his perusal.

We also welcome you to email us with any questions or concerns you might have.

Shawn Chen, President

Lauri Gonalons, Vice President

Bill Fauver, Vice President

Linda Daly, Secretary/Treasurer

Details Concerning Current Bargaining Issues

Mira Costa Taking Action; Again, It Had to Come to This

At the conclusion of an extremely contentious round of negotiations spanning from March to September, 2012  MBUTA leadership outlined a different, less antagonistic approach for 2013. There were several good reasons for this.

One, school district revenues were increased by the state and will continue to go up for many years forward, theoretically making it easier to attain a salary adjustment. Two, healthcare costs, although rising, have been increasing at a decreasing rate — making insurance premiums paid by the District less of a burden on MBUSD. Three, there were additional funds promised and delivered by the state for staff development related to the implementation of Common Core based testing. Four, teachers are not belligerent people, we are not confrontational, we are not driven by greed, and we are not obstructionists. Five, MBUTA wanted to give district administrators and supervisors an opportunity to prove that when given unparalleled opportunities they care about their employees as much as we are expected to care about the children in this community and their educational successes.

It has been nearly one whole year since contract proposals were sunshined. Although we have tried to negotiate a fair settlement objectively and collaboratively, we have no agreement and we have an increasingly dismissive district that began to hold teachers in utter disregard. Although many of you participated in numerous attempts in the last 12 months to bring attention to a wide range of concerns, we have received no response from those who govern and administrate. We protested teacher layoffs, duplicitous budgeting, financial misrepresentation, foolish spending on technology with built-in obsolescence, corporate malfeasance, lack of transparency, unfair labor practices, incompetence, unilateralism, lack of concern over construction and safety issues, and most recently the abolishment of a representative body of teachers assembled five decades ago as a recognition of our expertise and institutional memory. The list of grievances are many, but we have yet to hear an acceptable response from this governing body on these issues.

It is once again time to stand up for what we know in our heart is the real reason for the success of schools in MBUSD.  We can show students that the righteous voice of people cannot be silenced by those who have chosen self-servitude. Mira Costa has grown to be a great school through your professionalism, vision and dedication in the classroom. Administrators come and go, but teachers remain. We are the bedrock of student success.

As teachers, we have integrity. We must in order to protect and educate the future generation. It is because of this integrity that we must act together. It is because of integrity that MBUTA must now call upon its members to respond with a strong message that we will not tolerate the indifference, manipulation, and corruption that have taken our purchasing power and now our voice.


Mira Costa Taking Action; Again, It Had to Come to This

PERB Agrees MBUSD Broke Laws, Issues Complaint

Last year, during the course of negotiations, MBUTA leadership frequently expressed their dismay over the District’s refusal to provide information and its intransigence at the bargaining table.  We believed that the District was engaged in reckless spending on iPads and playing a shell game with accounts in an effort to try to deny our members a fair and long overdue salary adjustment.  In our effort to determine the level of deceit, we requested a range of documents from the District.  These included financial reports, stipend classifications, salary information for management, agreements with law firms representing District interests, detailed budgetary information, communications with LACOE, and ALL receipts and contracts that have ANY connection with the District iPad program.  We were met with unacceptable responses to these requests or no response at all.  Blocked in our efforts to achieve transparency, we filed an “unfair labor practice” charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).  On October 4, 2013 PERB released its findings.  They are as follows:

1. The information we requested was, “relevant and necessary to (MBUTA’s) discharge of its duty to represent employees.”

2. The District met these requests with partial responses or, in some instances, failed to respond at all.

3. This conduct resulted in the District FAILING and REFUSING to meet and negotiate in good faith in violation of Government Code section 3543.5(c).

4. The conduct by the District INTERFERED with the rights of bargaining unit employees to be represented by MBUTA in violation of Government Code section 3543.5(a)

5. The conduct by the District DENIED MBUTA its right to represent bargaining unit employees in violation of Government Code section 3543.5(b)

Our assertions last year that this District is NOT transparent in its finances, was resistant to providing essential information and was not negotiating in good faith at the bargaining table has been fully upheld by a legal entity empowered to evaluate such claims.  Despite the vicious and public attacks by the District against our Union and its leadership, the truth has won out.

We promised to tell you the truth.  We have always done that.  We will continue to do that.  Hopefully, this decision by PERB will unify us as we continue to negotiate with an intransigent District for continued salary and benefit adjustments that will restore to our staff equity after 10 years of neglect.  This ruling is enormously problematical for the District.  They have attempted to demonize MBUTA and our actions because they believed they were in control of the message.  PERB has exposed MBUSD’s efforts to thwart the negotiations process, WE must work together to keep it on track.

 Please click the following link for the PERB Complaint Against MBUSD .

PERB Agrees MBUSD Broke Laws, Issues Complaint