School district and its employees continue negotiations

By Debra Moore

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The news is filled with teachers across the state talking “strike” and the situation is no different locally. A stressful two years — with added work burdens and challenges, largely due to COVID but also fire-related, as well as unsatisfactory pay negotiations, have teachers and other staff members frustrated.

Some districts such as Contra Costa, have recently settled, while others such as Sacramento, have announced strike plans. Plumas Unified is still working though it. During the school board’s March meeting, leadership from both the teacher and classified unions, spoke, but more rank-and-file employees are expected to speak out during the April meeting if significant progress isn’t made.

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Theresa Belsher-Howe is president of the local classified union CSEA 193, representing clerical staff, bus drivers, custodian, cafeteria workers and more. She said this of the negotiations: “We submitted proposals that we thought were extremely reasonable and have been met with a brick wall by the district.”

Belsher-Howe said that in addition to COVID and fires, staff is watching an economy that has “gone crazy with the inflation rate.” One of the costs that continues to increase, even before the recent escalation of the inflation rate, is health insurance. That’s a topic that came up not only in her remarks, but with others as well. “We continue to bear the brunt of all of the insurance costs,” she said.

Don Williamson, manager of the school district’s warehouse agreed, “For the past 11 years I watched my take home decrease even as my pay increased.” Though he has recently turned in his resignation, he addressed the school board and administrators in support of his coworkers who are staying. He said that offering a small increase of 2 percent, while letting employees pick up all of the benefits increases, is a “slap in the face.”

He called out the board directly. “The board has no respect for what we do … if you as board members are not embarrassed you should be.”

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The morning after the meeting Board President Traci Holt said it’s frustrating to not be able to respond to accusations when they are made during the public comment section of the meeting. Not only is commenting not allowed under Brown Act regulations, but the board can’t discuss negotiation.

The frustrations voiced weren’t limited to the classified staff. Suzanne Stirling, president of the Plumas County Teachers Association, PCTA, read a statement to the board March 10. She lauded the efforts of the classified staff and her fellow teachers for their work during the fires and COVID.

“Throughout all of these challenging times, we as the labor force of Plumas Unified School District have risen to the occasion. Always at the forefront is providing for the daily needs of our number one priority, our students,” she said.

After describing some of the challenges that were faced by the district and its employees, Stirling said that the teachers have been patient, but are “now more than ever before, ready to negotiate for this 2021/2022 school year, with the potential to settle a multi-year collective bargaining agreement.”

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The district and the unions are continuing on with their negotiations, and while the administration is precluded from addressing specifics, Superintendent Terry Oestreich said, “While negotiations are underway, we are working to identify all the related extra costs each year including pensions, step and column, one-time salary enhancements, and salary reclassifications. We are hoping for a positive outcome.”