In the midst of ongoing teacher salary negotiations, the Brentwood Union School District (BUSD) is taking another hard look at its budget as teachers request a 9% salary increase and additional support for classrooms.
With the end of 2019 also came the end of the most recent contract settled in 2017, which gave teachers a 1.5% increase for 2016 to 2017, 0% for 2017, and 1% for 2018 to 2019. At the current 2020 negotiation table, the Brentwood Teachers Association (BTA) hopes to gain the 9% increase, along with securing high-quality educators and smaller class sizes.
“Parents feel better connected to students' learning when class sizes are effectively managed,” said Abbey Wheeler, BUSD teacher and union representative. “Caps on class sizes guarantee more teacher student engagement. These class-size ratios must be based upon each individual class and not in a district-wide average. These class size caps are also very important in band and PE programs. We'd love to see more support in TK classrooms.”
Dr. Dana Eaton, BUSD superintendent, said the district at present has offered an increase of 2.25%, but any changes to class size would ultimately impact the budget. And he sites inadequate funding from the state as the barrier to meeting the requests of the union –– BUSD is one of the lowest-funded districts in California (576 out of 632); special education expenses have increased by $5.5 million over the past three years; and legislation requires $2.5 million additional dollars in annual BUSD expenses by 2021/22 as part of the state effort to reduce the pension deficit.
“Being the lowest funded district in the county, the only way we have been able to have competitive compensation is due to the fact that we spend 90.3% of our unrestricted money on salaries and benefits,” Eaton said. “This is significantly higher than any neighboring district with the next closest being 87.4%. We absolutely believe that our amazing teachers and staff deserve to be at the top of every column … This is a state revenue issue not a prioritization issue.”
In recent years, school budget cuts at a state level have significantly impacted school districts. To balance the books, Eaton further stated the district has cut positions and spending on programs for a total of $4.6 million in reductions over the last three years; it’s also spent its reserve down to half the state average for a district of its size.
“Our teachers have a right to be frustrated,” he said. “The pay that they’re getting hasn’t kept up with the cost of living but because of the state-mandated increases … we are trying our best to make sure that our teachers are as well taken care of as best we can, but we also have to pass a budget that doesn’t force us to cut millions of dollars more.”
But BTA officials are skeptical about the buget woes and distributed material pointing out underestimated income in the district budget.
“In summary, of the $12 million received, BTA uncovered that $7.3 million could have been bargained, but instead was spent with 0% teacher voice … We feel the way the budget has been presented is very confusing,” said Wheeler. “We were told we were in a budget crisis for the last three years, but the district received millions in extra funding. How can we be in a crisis if they are receiving more money than anticipated and are benefiting from a quickly growing increase in students?”
Wheeler further noted that retaining quality teachers requires professional salary and benefits.
Eaton addressed the figures, noting $3.8 million was not BUSD money but an accounting mandate from the state that requires school districts to show pension payments on the balance sheet as both revenue and then an expense. That $3.8 million is money the district never receives. $1.8 million was due to new student enrollment within the district –– recognized in the December interim budget and resulted in fewer cuts that year. The remaining funds came from one-time money, lottery, local donations, Medi-cal and restricted funds. He said the $7.3 million mentioned by the BTA was part of the state-mandated expenditures.
“We didn’t choose to spend another dime,” Eaton said. “We were forced to spend that on mandated expenses, which were special education, pensions, step and column increases for employees … The challenge isn’t that we’re not getting new money. The challenge is that the expenditures that are mandated by the state are far outweighing any new money that’s coming in … We strive to be very transparent about our budget and our budgeting process. We post every major report online. Our budgets are audited and overseen by the county office of education, and then we hire an independent auditor to come in and verify with our board that what we’re telling them in the budget is true and honest and legal.”
Wheeler gave a nod to Brentwood’s community and school district as the reason people move into town.
“Brentwood schools are not only an amazing place to grow and learn, but an exceptional place to grow as a professional as well,” she said. “The reason for this is because of a legacy that was built for us by generations of fine Brentwood educators. We know that legacy as ‘The Brentwood Way.’ We work tirelessly to continue to offer that level of education and character building to our current and future students, so that they too can feel the Brentwood Way. As our town grows and develops, we hope to keep the heart of it intact. We hope to continue to be able to build the whole child and prepare them for the ever-changing world we live in. There is nothing that can replace the human connection between a student and a teacher; that is the Brentwood Way, and we will uphold that legacy no matter what! It's time to remember that putting kids first is not putting teachers last. We are proud to be Brentwood teachers.”
Negotiations are ongoing at this time. Check back for more updates.