Dozens of certificated and classified staff members filled City Hall Thursday, Feb. 6 at the Galt Joint Union High School District (GJUHSD) Board meeting. Eight staff members spoke on behalf of their coworkers, encouraging the board to negotiate “fairly” and consider the increase in medical premiums employees are now required to pay. During board member comments, several board members responded to the employee public comments; however, most staff members had left the meeting.

Clark Carter read a letter from an employee, which revealed negotiation offers.

The letter from Galt High School teacher Steve Duncan revealed individual teachers being offered $65 to go toward their insurance or a one time 1 percent bonus across the board. Since negotiation information is not supposed to be made public until it is final, district administration could not confirm that this was the latest offer or discussion.

“This choice is one small thing, but very little in terms of keeping up with the cost of living, not to mention the out of pocket expenses that all of us teachers spend each year for student needs,” Duncan’s letter said. “This whole notion of the district not offering a cost of living increase, given all the time teachers work inside as well as outside the classroom, is appalling. I appeal to the board to consider offering the certificated class at least a cost of living raise, to help with our insurance costs, and show us in writing how much you, the board, appreciate all that we do.”

Carter spoke about the “elephant in the room”.

“This is probably the thing that takes the most trust to deal with, because we are talking about people’s lives and whether or not we can stay or go,” Carter said. “This is something that we can handle, and this becomes where it doesn’t need to be acrimonious and we can both agree, and we can sit down and find a reasonable and fair way to solve things and the other problems in our district we can handle. But it seems this is the test, this would be the thing … can we develop the trust. Right now, do we have that trust? Based on the way that negotiations have gone, I can’t say that we do. Can we get there? Of course we can.”

Liberty Ranch teacher Mark Feuerbach, a 27-year district veteran, told board members that he wasn’t there for himself, but for the younger teachers.

“When a person wants to become a teacher, it’s a great financial and economical sacrifice, especially nowadays with college so expensive …  It’s not easy being a teacher,” Feuerbach said. “When teachers get a periodic raise, it makes them feel good about themselves, it makes them feel valued and makes them work a little harder. I realize that you have financial commitments for this year, but what I’m asking is if you’d consider a raise for next year.”

Other speakers conveyed the sentiment of protecting the younger teachers as well.

Anngela Schroeder spoke about being a new teacher years ago and how she looked up to the “seasoned” teachers who were looking out for her.

“Now I am one of the seasoned teachers fighting for the young teachers,” Schroeder said. “We ask you to please continue to recognize our sacrifices for the children of this town. We, as district teachers and staff, put our students first and our lives on hold and I have taken it for the team many times, but now I want to be selfish. I want to provide for my family as well as I can and as well as I deserve to.”

Schroeder asked for the district to raise the employer contribution for the health care premiums; however, she did not have answers as to how the district could accomplish higher pay and/or raising the health care cap.

“There are some that will still say, what’s in it for me, how am I going to be compensated?” Schroeder said. “Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if there’s an answer, but from one family member to another, all I want for my birthday this year is to have the health care cap raised.”

Liberty Ranch teacher Kellie Gorelick spoke about the need for the district to keep good employees, and one way to do that was in compensation, specifically in health care premium costs.

Calling the employee contribution for premium costs “significant impacts” on families and new teachers, Gorlick told board members that staff members are paying $1,285 a month out of pocket to cover their family, up $130 from last year.

“That’s almost a mortgage,” Gorlick said. “I just want the district every year to think about us as employees and think about two things, we deserve cost of living and we also deserve for you guys to focus on health care.”

Schroeder had already told board members that Galt district employees currently pay $600 a month more for health care than staff at the Lodi Unified School District and $900 more a month than Elk Grove Unified.

Gorlick handed board members information about the out of pocket costs for GJUHSD employees as compared to Elk Grove and Lodi district employees.

Both districts are significantly larger than GJUHSD. Elk Grove ranks in at the fifth largest school district in California with over 60,000 students, Lodi claims approximately 30,000 students, whereas Galt high school has just over 2,100 students.

This was precisely the point made by both GJUHSD board members Melissa Neuburger and Mark Beck.

Neuburger spoke to positions mandated by the state.

“Whether they [school districts] have 60 schools or three schools, they still have to have all those positions,” Neuburger said. “All those positions and all the reports that come with that is all mandated for all districts. So, for a small district, they still have to have all those people there. For a large district, you have so many more students with which to cover the costs of that.”

Beck said he is always very cautious when it comes to the district budget.

“Unfortunately, the revenue streams in the district with money going out, how we get billed, what we have to spend is purely and simply capitalistic and free enterprise,” Beck explained. “But the fashion in which we get paid is not. We get paid on a formula. We only have so much coming to a district. It’s not as simple as we have X amount of dollars coming in so we can just pass it through, because there’s 100 different variables. We don’t get paid by how good we are, we don’t get paid by things that a normal free enterprise, capitalistic system would give us money for. We get X amount of dollars. And the cost of doing business on a per pupil basis changes every year.”

Beck said that budgeting is never simple.

“It’s never as simple as we get the dollars and we pass it through. It’s never that simple, never, because there are just too many things going on. I wish it were that simple, I really do,” Beck said. “I look at multiyear projections and we look at revenue stream – money coming in and not knowing necessarily what that money looks like going out; I’m extremely cautious.”

Neuburger agreed to the complexity of the situation.

“When Mark brought up the government doesn’t realize that ‘oh that’s just a 1 percent or 2 percent change across the district’, it really makes a difference when it’s a matter of well, that 1 percent here will cover half of an employee that we can no longer have, but we’re still required to maintain to meet all of our mandated requirements,” Neuburger said.

“I feel obligated to not only provide what I can for the staff, but I also feel obligated for 2,100 kids that I’m equally obligated to. So there’s a balance there,” Beck said. “So it’s a frustration for me when it’s oversimplified like it was tonight.