By Allison Jarrell

More than 200 impassioned teachers packed the Capistrano Unified School District’s Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 8 wearing neon green “Value Educators!” stickers and holding signs that read, “Working Without a Contract” and “Keep Quality Teachers in CUSD.”

The majority of the teachers were not in attendance to speak on an agenda item, but rather to draw attention to the failed contract negotiations between CUSD and the Capistrano Unified Education Association that have been taking place in closed session for over a year. Negotiations officially stalled back in June, and last month, it was announced that mediation had failed. The process now moves on to fact-finding.

CUEA officials say their bargaining goals have remained the same since negotiations began in August 2016—they want “permanent increases to the salary schedule,” and “a sustainable plan to mitigate the negative impact of increasing employee health and welfare contributions.”

CUSD argues that the district must maintain a “responsible budget” that balances recognizing the work of teachers with addressing facilities’ needs and paying for pension benefits.

A handful of CUSD teachers addressed the board during public comment, including Ken Soto, a teacher of five years at Marco Forster Middle School.

“I’m the teacher that we keep hearing about—I’m a highly qualified teacher who might not be able to keep teaching at this district because I cannot afford to,” Soto said. “I’m being paid less than most of my OC counterparts to commute to one of the most expensive regions in the county.”

Soto said he surveyed 20- to 30-year-old teachers who have been with the district five or more years and asked them what effect the current pay schedule has had on their desire or ability to keep teaching at Capo Unified. Soto quoted about seven teachers before his three minutes were up, many of whom said they won’t be able to stay with the district much longer due to the high cost of living and increase in insurance costs.

“When it comes down to it, these teachers are going to be fine…the people that will not be so fine are the students,” Soto said.

Kelsey Torres, a third-year English teacher at Aliso Niguel High School, told the board that the district’s salary schedule is infamous among young teachers who know that if they want to be paid well, they should avoid working in Capo Unified.

Torres said she loves her job at Aliso Niguel High School, and if she could be paid fairly and afford to live in the area, she wouldn’t think of going anywhere else.

“I’m the only third-year teacher that I know of who can’t afford to move out of her parent’s house,” Torres said. “I’m not the only young person in CUSD who feels this way.”

“What I fear most is that CUSD doesn’t even know what young teachers are thinking right now,” Torres continued. “You’re piling up reserve money for some rainy day in the future, but I’m here to tell you that that rainy day is here. You’re about to have all of your youngest, most promising teachers walk out the door, and as for up-and-coming teachers leaving their credential programs, you’ll be lucky if they even knock.”

According to countywide school district salary settlement reports listed on CUEA’s website, of the 27 school districts in Orange County, CUSD was the sixth highest-paying school district on average in 2012-13, but declined over the years to the 20th spot in 2016-17. The data also shows that, on average, CUSD’s teachers make roughly $4,700 less than the average teacher in Orange County.

A date has not yet been finalized for upcoming fact-finding sessions, where a three-person panel will review the arguments and proposals and ultimately issue non-binding recommendations. According to a tentative timeline provided by the school district, the fact-finding panel is set to meet later this month.

If the fact-finding process does not result in an agreement, CUSD would be able to impose its last, best and final offer. If the teachers’ union is not satisfied with that offer, district teachers would maintain the right to strike.

For more information on the negotiations, visit www.capousd-ca.schoolloop.com/cuea and www.cuea.org.

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