OCEANSIDE — Hundreds of Oceanside teachers, who have worked for nearly a year and a half without a contract, are expected to rally Nov. 14 at Cesar Chavez Middle School for a new contract and pay raise.
But district officials said they can’t afford to give teachers raises due to a bleak financial outlook over the next few years.
Over the past few weeks, teachers have raised the stakes in their ongoing labor dispute with the school district, suspending voluntary activities — such as after-school clubs — in order to highlight the extra hours they work, and picketing outside of campuses.
On Nov. 14, officials with the Oceanside Teachers Association are hoping for 500 teachers to attend the rally before the board meeting, representing the 500 days the teachers have worked without a new contract.
“Our message is that we are united, and we believe that we should be respected with a new contract,” said Jennifer Skellett, president of the teachers’ union. “When we are talking about a budget crisis, we (teachers) are mission critical, and the district should definitely have budget for the teachers. We just want a fair contract.”
The Oceanside district serves 18,500 students at 23 schools and employs more than 2,000 teachers and other staff. The contract with the Oceanside Teachers Association expired July 1, 2016.
Skellett said that between 2016 and May, the district and teachers met at the bargaining table seven times.
Initially, teachers proposed a 3 percent increase, and after several months the district countered with a contract that included no raises.
They have since exchanged proposals and counter proposals, with teachers awaiting the latest district counter proposal, Skellett said.
Teachers pointed to the fact that the district’s most recent unaudited budget showed a $27 million carry-over balance from the most recent school year, up from the $21 million that the school district anticipated in May.
“The district said if there was money over we will talk later,” Skellett said. “In our minds there is money left over, so let’s have the conversation is what we’ve said.”
District officials said the surplus could be wiped in two years, as the district is projecting revenue shortfalls in the millions.
This year’s budget projects $203 million in revenue, with $216 million in spending. The 2018-19 school year is expected to see revenue rise to $209 million and spending to $220 million.
School officials said they are looking for the teachers’ union to make concessions so any increases are cost neutral.
In other words, if they agree on pay raises, some cuts elsewhere would have to take place to cancel out the increase. District officials said they are looking at potentially capping health benefits packages, which are among the county’s richest.
Both Skellett and school officials said both sides are still actively negotiating a compromise, and haven’t reached the point where an impasse would be declared.
“The district is currently in good faith contract negotiations with the Oceanside Teachers Association,” district spokeswoman Lisa Contreras said in a statement. “When a labor agreement expires, the existing contract continues to remain while parties negotiate a new agreement.”