Photo by JP Crumrine.
Photo by J P Crumrine.
Members of the Hemet Teachers Association walked along Florida Avenue in Hemet Saturday to protest the lack of a new agreement with Hemet Unified School District. Photo by J P Crumrine

Dissatisfied with the progress of salary negotiations with the Hemet Unified School District, members of the Hemet Teachers Association walked along Florida Avenue in Hemet Saturday carrying signs expressing their disgruntlement.

Even mediation has not solved the differences between the district administration and the union. According to a district press release, HTA and HUSD will proceed to fact-finding. A three-person panel reviews the disputed issues and proposes a settlement.

Officially the negotiations are currently for the 2013-14 school year. HUSD offered a 4-percent increase to the salary schedule retroactive to July 1, 2013, along with a $1,500 increase to health and welfare costs. The total percentage increase of the district’s salary and health-benefit proposal is about 6 percent. The district budget for fiscal year 2014-15 assumes another 4-percent increase.

Teachers, according to HTA President Robert Hudson, feel disrespected. When the school budget was falling because of less state funding and property taxes, teachers easily agreed to furlough days. But now that the budget problems have passed, the administration does not seem to making appropriate offers, he said.

Salary is not the only issue separating the parties. The number of students in each classroom is another issue. Lowering the student-teacher ratio requires more teachers.

As an example of the distance between the two organizations, in a message to staff and parents, HUSD Superintendent Dr. Barry Kayrell described the administration’s package as “one of the highest in Riverside County.” Yet Hudson said, “The salary for a Hemet teacher with five years experience is 27th out of 33 districts in Riverside County. After 10 years, the Hemet salary is 28th out of 33 districts.”

About 68 new teachers have been hired this school year, Kayrell wrote. Class sizes district-wide have declined at all levels. For example, in grades six through eight, the ratio was 34 students per teacher last year and this school year it fell to 31 students. The declines in kindergarten, third, fourth, fifth and high school were not as great but all were at least one fewer student.

While class sizes throughout the district are the focus, Hudson made the point that the administration ignores the differences between schools. For example, he said kindergarten classes at Valle Vista have 21 children, but at Whittier, the class exceeds 30. According to Kayrell’s report, K-3 average sizes have dropped from 28.5 students per teacher to 27 this year.

“Students deserve the best and most qualified teachers. How can Hemet attract those teachers if it’s in the lower half of the surrounding districts?” Hudson asked during Saturday’s walk.

When asked if HTA had figures on the attrition rate of teachers leaving, he said district administration has refused to provide that data.

However, Kayrell wrote that at a job fair in the spring of 2014, more than 365 qualified applicants applied for jobs in HUSD.

Saturday’s walk was billed as “Derail Kayrell” on a union flyer.