The Hemet Unified School District Board of Governor’s held its once-a-year meeting in Idyllwild on Nov. 18. While no specific issues about Idyllwild School were on the board’s agenda, several issues, which could affect the local school, were discussed.
Two resolutions in anticipation of a possible teachers’ work stoppage were the principal topic and attracted many speakers from Hemet to Idyllwild.
The next day, Wednesday, Nov. 19, HUSD announced that fact-finding would begin soon and both Supt. Dr. Barry Kayrell and Dep. Supt. Dr. LaFaye Platter expressed optimism that a strike or work stoppage would be avoided.
But the previous night, the board approved both resolutions unanimously and without any discussion among the trustees. Kayrell stressed that in the event of any actual or serious threat of a concerted refusal to work by employees, all schools will remain open to provide an educational program for students.
The first resolution authorized Kayrell to declare an emergency if any form of a stoppage occurred. The second authorized the district to hire additional substitute teachers for $300 a day if necessary to keep schools open during the work interruption.
Prior to the meeting, Hemet Teachers Association President Robert Hudson said he thought the resolutions were premature.
HUSD and teachers are actually trying to negotiate changes for the 2013-14 school year. These have never been approved. HUSD offered teachers a 4-percent salary increase and $1,500 for health and welfare benefits. HTA has not accepted this proposal and countered with a 6-percent salary increase.
Although negotiations began in 2013, because a settlement has not been achieved, anxiety has begun to increase. Earlier this month, teachers held a Saturday protest on Florida Avenue in Hemet.
Prior to the board’s approval of these resolutions, Hudson, accompanied by two HTA directors, presented a “Statement of no confidence in Superintendent Kayrell” to the board. Art Plinski, Hemet High School teacher, said more than 800 teachers signed the petition.
While listing several specific actions to which HTA objected, HTA stated, “Barry Kayrell completely lacks the leadership and skills to lead [HUSD] and has destroyed the trust between the teaching staff and the administration.”
HTA members are disappointed that the district has not accepted their salary request and feel their past efforts to help the district through tough financial times have been forgotten. “I don’t think there is a teacher in the district who isn’t saddened we’re in fact-finding,” Plinski said.
Idyllwild resident Jeri John, who retired from Idyllwild School and now substitutes in the district, spoke on behalf of the substitute teachers. The resolution, which authorized hiring more substitutes, offers a higher daily pay than the current substitutes receive. “I’m a professional. I’m prepared … I’m asking you to pay substitute teachers a decent wage,” John urged the board and added that she wished substitute teachers had a union.
After the meeting, Idyllwild trustee Vic Scavarda said he was not surprised with the board’s decision. He also remains confident that a resolution will occur before any significant actions. “A lot of people really want this to happen and will try again,” he said. But he agreed that it is important to have the mechanism in place in case of a breakdown.
“It saddens me to sit in front of former colleagues. This takes so much energy from what they really want to do — teach,” he added.
HTA argues that the HUSD salary schedule is one of the lowest in Riverside County. However, Platter, who heads the negotiating team, sees the pay issue from a different perspective and says HUSD is at the top.
“School district pay schedules are different depending on the number of days as well as the length of the school day. Our school day is six hours and 19 minutes. On an hourly rate, we are at the top of the county,” Platter stated.
She and Kayrell also dispute the allegation that the district’s pay scale is causing teachers to leave for other higher-paying school districts. Both confirmed that teachers have left HUSD, but the principal reasons are retirement and family relocation. At an April job fair, HUSD had more than 350 applicants of which 161 certificated teachers were hired.
They also feel that the funding for teacher salaries is fixed. Therefore, higher salaries will reduce the number of teachers hired and consequently limit the district’s ability to reduce class size.