ENCINITAS — Classified school staff in the San Dieguito Union High School District crowded last week’s school board meeting in hopes of re-establishing an open dialogue with trustees about the financial and personnel constraints they say they’re under to support students and schools.
More than 40 school support staff, including paraeducators, custodians, secretaries and food service workers, alongside members of the community, attended the meeting on Sept. 19.
The staff says in the last few years, the high school district has added 100 acres of landscaping, 1 million square feet of facilities, nearly 400 students and five new administrators without adding classified staff, putting more work on existing classified employees without increasing their pay at an equal pace. They say this has led to many of them taking second or third jobs to take care of their families, pay rent, and put food on the table.
“Despite the district expanding its facilities, despite it adding more administrators and students, the levels of classified staff have remained the same,” said Matt Colwell, president of California School Employees Association Chapter 241, the union that represents the classified employees. “We can’t continue to provide the same level of service to students while struggling to feed our own families. Eventually, our students will see the impacts of our overworking. The board could do more for the people who clean the schools, feed the kids, and make sure students are safe. Yet trustees refuse to hear from us directly about our concerns.”
Board President Beth Hergesheimer said in an email that the board appreciates and respects its school employees and has been glad to hear their perspectives and concerns at recent board meetings. She said the board has given direction to the administrators of its negotiating team to negotiate on their behalf and they have received regular updates on the negotiation process and progress.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Haley said in an email that the elected board of trustees has an appointed negotiating team that is responsible for negotiating on behalf of the board with the association, and the association also appoints a negotiating team that has the same responsibility. Haley said both of these teams have been meeting for some time to reach a new agreement, and while the district’s negotiating team meets with the entire board to get direction, the board can only act under a majority.
“No individual trustee can make decisions for the district,” Haley said.
“They can listen to concerns, but they cannot speak for the district or the board. They can receive emails, but they cannot make any decisions or promises through email as well. Association members can come to meetings, as they have, and share their perspectives, but the board of trustees cannot, by law, negotiate with them in that manner.”
Haley added that they are constantly looking at staffing needs and recruit accordingly. He said they recently added a new receptionist, and will be adding two new custodians, two more computer technicians, and a new theater technician.
For at least the last decade, teachers within the San Dieguito Union High School District have had it in their contract that they must be the highest paid educators within San Diego County, however classified staff have no such deal. Staff members say during contract negotiations with the district, they dropped their initial request for a 5% salary increase to a 3% raise, but they say the school district has refused to budge from its initial offer of a 1% raise.
A bargaining table session took place on Sept. 20 and Haley said it was very productive. He said he believes a settlement on the successor agreement will be achieved when they meet again for negotiations on Oct. 8.
“We are not laying off employees like many other districts in San Diego County and we do not want to put ourselves in that position,” Haley said. “We believe a fair and equitable pay increase, based on total compensation, will be agreed upon in this negotiation.”
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.