APT says it’s prepared to strike if labor dispute can’t be resolved in mediation

Teachers gather at Exedra plaza to picket on Tuesday, Jan. 23

In an unprecedented-for-Piedmont move, APT President Dr. Elise Marks told the Board of Education on Wednesday, Jan. 24 that 96% of APT’s membership voted to authorize a strike “at the appropriate time if no agreement is reached once the contract bargaining process has been exhausted.” Labor negotiations between PUSD and APT failed at the end of 2023 and the state appointed a mediator in December. A full day of mediation was scheduled for Jan. 26.

The “yes” vote does not mean a strike is imminent or desirable, Marks told the Board on Wednesday, saying the union is committed to going through the mediation process and, if necessary, a subsequent fact-finding process in pursuit of a deal.

“We fully understand how disruptive a strike would be to our students,” she said, surrounded by a large contingent of teachers who filled City Hall for the meeting. “Lord knows, we don’t want to lose a single minute of precious instructional time. And we do not want our students stuck at home. We’re also deeply aware how disruptive a strike would be to families and working parents. But we cannot sign a contract that amounts to a literal ongoing pay cut for Piedmont’s educators,” she said. Marks said APT would give the district advance notice to inform families so they can make any plans or arrangements that may be necessary.

We recognize that the district budget is stretched thin, that even the current 9% three-year offer will force the district to make some serious cuts in staffing…which means cuts in programs and services to our students…that NONE of us want to see. We certainly don’t want to see cuts beyond what’s being proposed. 

But what are we supposed to do?

We’re told “don’t you understand that the district just doesn’t have enough money to help teachers with this?” Well, we understand. We can see the budget numbers. And — believe me — we understand the nature of the problem all too well. We’re intimately familiar with what it’s like not to have enough money to cover expenses. We live it every single month in our personal lives. This budget shortfall is real, but it cannot keep falling on educators’ shoulders. 

APT President Dr. Elise Marks at Board of Education meeting on Jan. 24

Marks said it falls to to the Board of Education and the community to address this issue.

APT seeks an 8.22% increase in salary and a 25% increase in the district’s contribution toward employee health care. Until 2011, PUSD paid the full cost of employee health benefits; since then PUSD’s contribution has been capped in a concession APT made due to the financial crisis that year. Kaiser health rates were expected to increase by 17% this month, according to PUSD last year. In her statement to the Board, Marks said teachers have also agreed to four straight years of furlough days after the last financial crisis and signed contracts below COLA and below CPI many times.

PUSD has said it can offer APT a multiyear increase of 9% over three years: 2% this year, 4% next year, and 3% the third year, to be used on salary or benefits, or a combination of both. PUSD teachers received a 7.5% raise last year, made possible mostly because of the passage of Measure H.

Trustees said they understood and empathized with the teachers’ plight — but all highlighted the state’s failure to adequately fund public education.

“We all want to ensure we can offer competitive, fair compensation to our teachers,” said Trustee Lindsay Thomasson. “The challenge we are facing is systemic. We as a state have the means to fund public education and we consistently choose not to. I would like to figure out how to come together to advocate for increased state funding. I recognize it’s not an immediate solution, but we have to look at this long term,” she said.

“The situation is dire,” said Trustee Ruchi Medhekar. “These cuts are really painful and deep and the community will have to make a decision” about how to move forward.

“There was a lot more unity when we worked together,” said Trustee Cory Smegal. “We made some strides when we held a rally in Sacramento and talked to Buffy Wicks and Nancy Skinner.” Smegal said the district would be turning over every stone at its budget workshop on Jan. 25 to figure out not only how to shrink program but also how to find ways to enhance revenues to pay teachers what they deserve.

State budget informs PUSD planning

Chief Financial Officer Ruth Alahydoian presented the results of the Governor’s budget proposal and how it affects the PUSD budget. On Jan. 10, Governor Gavin Newsom released his proposed state budget for 2024-25 — a critical piece of the district’s budget development process. The proposed revenues for school districts will be the only information available until May, when the Governor will provide what’s known as the May Revision. The State Legislature will begin review and deliberation of the proposal and may make significant changes before final approval of the state budget in June.

Alahydoian had a good news/bad news message: Despite a shortfall in state revenue, the state will not try to “claw back” funds from schools. Bad news: COLA is only .76% and the state is deficit spending to fund schools. Her presentation outlined how COLA affects Piedmont’s allocation from the state and how attendance and enrollment factor into these numbers.

Enrollment and attendance play a key role in how the state funds school districts in California. PUSD has been working to improve its average daily attendance (ADA) numbers since the pandemic — board members and the superintendent said those numbers have improved recently. (ADA had dipped from 97% pre-pandemic to 94% – 95% earlier this year.) The district receives no state funding if a student is absent for any reason.

Exactly where PUSD plans to make cuts was to be the topic of the Board’s second budget workshop on Jan. 25. PUSD has already started the process of identifying the $1.4 million cuts it would have to make in order to be able to meet its own offer, which is still far short of what APT is asking for.  Many of the details were laid out in a first budget study session on Jan. 11. (See presentation HERE.)

The slides highlight the programs and/or personnel that PUSD could cut, but also explores ways to bring in extra revenue, for example, by boosting enrollment or creating an independent study hybrid learning program at Millennium High School. (Programs and/or positions that could be affected range across the board — the outcome of the Jan. 25 workshop will provide more detail.)

Employees who may be impacted by reductions must be given preliminary notices no later than March 15 and the district will hold a public hearing on positions to be eliminated on Feb. 14. Those cuts may be impacted up or down by any revisions to the Governor’s budget in May — final notices must go out by May 15.

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