District finalizes contracts amid financial issues
On February 8, 2019, Novato Unified School District teachers held a vote on whether to approve teacher contracts for the 2018-19 school year. Superintendent Jim Hogeboom and Deputy Superintendent Kris Cosca held negotiations contracts for the 2018-19 school year earlier in January, ultimately reaching a compromise. NUSD teachers began the 2018-19 school year without contracts, which stemmed from the district’s waning budget funds and differing goals between the teachers and the board. Teachers held a protest in front of the District Office on December 4 to cast a light on the issue, and met with Hogeboom.
Members of the Novato Federation of Teachers, the union that represents teachers in matters concerning NUSD, brought up the prominent issue of inability to keep up with Novato’s high cost of living. According to a press release published by the NFT, Marin County’s cost of living is 9 percent greater than the cost of living in comparable districts. As a result, while NUSD teachers may receive a similar salary to their Southern California counterparts, the comparison does not reflect the reality of the situation.
“The district will have to look at its funding, as well as at the new state budget projections proposed by new Governor Gavin Newsom, which have been kind toward public education,” French teacher Jeffrey Moore said. “A growing number of teachers, despite their resourcefulness, have had to leave this area due to market factors such as housing, cost of living and commuting times.”
After previous negotiation sessions that took place in November, the union rejected offers of a 0.5 percent pay raise from the district, citing concerns that this would not be enough to catch up with the increasing cost of living in Marin County. The union did, however, tentatively agree to a two percent raise in February, and as of February 8, district teachers will be voting on whether to agree to the contracts or not.
“There’s no telling which way the vote will go,” Moore said. “Some of the teachers, especially in the elementary schools, have some problems with the proposed contracts while others just want to get it over with.”
In addition to addressing concerns over teacher pay, the district is working to contend with the financial impacts of declining enrollment and increased state-imposed pension rates. According to Hogeboom, the fact that NUSD receives approximately $11,000 per student compared to the rates of $16,000 to $25,000 per student in other parts of the county has exacerbated the repercussions of decreased enrollment.
“This year, negotiations are taking more time because we are having a hard time coming to an agreement,” Assistant Superintendent of Businesses and Operations Yancy Hawkins said. “While I can’t comment on specifics, I can say that negotiations sessions have been constructive and both sides have moved together and we are now close to an agreement.”
Based on the district’s Multi-Year Projection as of the First Interim, NUSD is expected to run a deficit of at least $3.7 million, if not more, by the end of the 2018-19 school year, leaving only $8.8 million remaining in the combined General Fund Budget. By the end of the 2020-21 school year, the district is projected to have only $4.4 million remaining in the fund. The Board of Trustees authorized the development of a Budget Balancing Process to discern areas of the budget where spending can be limited.
The Budget Balancing Process was implemented with the intention of building upon the work of the previous committee, according to the First Interim Budget Report. Based on the timeline of the process, the criteria for budget solutions and a list of potential areas for reduction were finalized in December. The results of the process are expected to be presented to the board in late February or early March.