The following letter was delivered from TTEA Leadership on our behalf at Wednesday's School Board Meeting:
"I am speaking tonight on behalf of the Tahoe Truckee Education Association. The local association of almost 300 teachers who work in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. I am the Treasurer and also a member of the executive board.
Our members often enjoy the opportunity to stand with you, the school board, and the administration, in celebration and in appreciation of the great work that happens in our district. Unfortunately, I have the dubious honor of standing before you tonight because our members currently have a disagreement with you over our level of compensation.
We would prefer to settle this at the negotiating table and don’t think public salary disagreements are ideal for anyone involved (either teachers, the board, or the community overall). Nevertheless, we feel the time has come to speak up on behalf of our members and the important work they do. We are grateful for the opportunity to do this through our civic structures - coming before our democratically elected school administrators in a public meeting. We do so respectfully, as both a partner and an advocate for the fair compensation of our members.
I want to begin by making clear that at every point in this salary negotiation this year TTEA has been flexible and responsive. We have tried to reach a compromise. We have provided fair proposals and have taken into account your stated fiscal concerns. We are seeking a fair cost of living increase that allows our salaries to keep pace with inflation. It is reasonable to expect our salaries to keep up with inflation when revenues are increasing as well. By failing to ensure that our salaries keep up with inflation, you are asking teachers and staff to get by with less even though revenues are up. Step and column increases are not cost of living adjustments, they are the agreed-upon compensation for experience and expertise. We all agree that we want skilled, experienced teachers in front of our children and this is the way we retain veteran teachers and incentivize educators for skill-building and honing their craft.
This year, more than ever before has shown us the critical role teachers and schools play in our society. Teachers have given so much of themselves this year (adapting to the ever changing conditions like online learning, as well as providing in-person instruction, at personal risk in 2020 and early 2021). It isn’t fair to ask us to make even more financial sacrifices.
We believe The District can afford to give a fair cost of living increase to the teachers and staff doing the hard work to run schools this year. The district, once again, has received record revenue--up 7 million dollars in 2 years-a 9.22% increase. Property tax revenue has gone up 10.12% in 2 years, during that time, TTEA has not received an increase to our salary schedule. The District has large reserves (13.9% of the total budget) that are on the upper end of the board adopted 10-15% range and above the State required (3%) and that grew by $2.65 million dollars this year alone. Mr. Rivera’s budget presentation at the last regular board meeting projects that even if property taxes come in “optimistically conservative” next year, as budgeted, the reserve will be 15.67% in 2021-2022 (above the board adopted target size). Many other local districts with less revenue or smaller reserves have already agreed to larger raises than TTUSD this year and next. South Lake Tahoe Unified is an example. In similar Basic Aid districts like TTUSD (attempting to balance for excess tax and ADA enrollment numbers), teachers are earning 7-35% more than TTUSD teachers. (We are happy to share these comparisons with the members of the board directly as well).
At Mr. Rivera’s last budget presentation, he walked the board and the public through the effects of a 3% ongoing raise for all staff on the district's finances both this year and in future years. I would also like to address the board’s concerns about deficit spending and future tax projections and their implications for the budget.
TTEA respectfully disagrees with TTUSD’s current projections for property tax revenue increases next year. Importantly, this is a disagreement about assumptions, priorities, and budget models, and not with people. Mr. Rivera and the business services department do a thorough job year after year, but we disagree with some of the assumptions they have built into their financial models. Specifically, property taxes are currently budgeted to be 3.25% next year. Everyone who lives here has seen what has happened to property values locally. A number of TTEA members tonight have shared what kind of negative effects that has had on them personally. A recent Moonshine Ink article was written by Alex Hoeft and published March 12th entitled “Home is Where the Lake Is,” states, “Nearly $3 billion worth of real estate swapped hands around Truckee/North Tahoe last year, an 87% increase in dollar volume compared to 2019” based on MLS data. Looking back at historical data after the effects of the great recession, property tax has increased by 4.68% or more every year with 6 of the 7 years greater than 5%. In fact, it came in as high as 10.47% in 2015-16. This year 2020-2021 it was a 5.21% increase.
If property tax revenue materially beats the current 3.25% target next year, the district will not have to deficit spend to fund our fair cost of living increase of 3%.
Even if property tax values do come in exactly as projected, the small amount of deficit spending would be expected to go away because of the ongoing year-over-year increases to property tax revenues. Any potential deficit would be much smaller than the amount that was added to the reserve this year alone.
Think about how it must feel to staff to know that TTUSD is willing to issue 30 year debt instruments based on potential future developer fees to build buildings, but is unwilling to risk a small amount of potential deficit spending over the next few years to make sure the staff inside those buildings can keep up with the increasing cost of living.
Finally, our current offer, which was made in an effort to end this negotiation and account for The District’s concerns about property tax revenues, is for 2% this year, and additional ongoing increases if property tax revenues beat projections next year. This offer is functionally equivalent to the district’s initial 2% offer if property tax comes in as budgeted because it won’t pay above 2% unless property taxes are higher. This is a win-win. If the district gets the money, it can give its teachers and staff a raise, and if it doesn’t, The District takes on no risk. Even then, TTUSD would not agree to this offer and conclude the negotiations. We want to compromise and find a solution that values our work, and respects the role of the board as stewards of the district's finances overall. The cost of living increase we have advocated for leaves additional monies available for other district priorities. But, keeping teacher and staff salaries in pace with inflation has to be one of those budget priorities going forward.
We acknowledge that COVID has also been ever-present when talking about school finance this year. In fact, TTEA agreed to end salary negotiations last year without a cost of living increase because of the uncertainty surrounding what this year was going to look like. We did this to ensure TTUSD had the money it needed to operate schools safely this year. We understand the cost of operating schools safely in the COVID era is higher, however, The District will be fully compensated, bringing in millions of additional dollars, for these increased costs both by the state and the federal government.
Finally, I think it’s important to point out that TTEA teachers were ahead of the curve when it comes to figuring out school in the COVID era. They have been working harder than any previous year in their careers trying to make the best of these incredibly difficult times for their students. We created and implemented emergency distance learning over 2 days last spring when many districts took weeks. We were back to in-person school faster than most other districts in the state. TTEA members returned to school every time it was safe to do so and TTEA was never responsible for any delay in opening schools this year. According to the “Return2Learn” tracker, created by the American Enterprise Institute, even as of March 22nd (the most recent data) 40% of schools in CA are still fully remote and only 7% are fully in-person.
TTEA teachers and staff, as well as CSEA staff, have done the incredibly difficult job that has been asked of them this year. As evidenced by this year and the amazing work of the district in years past, we (meaning the board, TTUSD admin, and the staff, both CSEA and TTEA) can do great things for the students and families in Tahoe Truckee when we are able to work for a common purpose and support one another in service of the same goal. I am here on behalf of the almost 300 TTEA members reiterating our desire to work together to continue doing this vital work for our community. As our elected leaders, you aren’t sitting with us at the negotiating table, but I hope after hearing from me and our members tonight, we will soon be able to reach a fair compromise that values our work."