By Theresa Harrington
CONCORD -- The Mt. Diablo school board has said it wants to make the district a preferred destination for high quality employees. But teachers who have gone without raises for six years, and pay nearly $18,000 a year for family medical coverage, say the district may be the last place the best and brightest want -- or can afford -- to be.
"I have seen countless young, new teachers who are excellent leave our district after one or two years because they can get a better deal doing the same work in other districts," said elementary vocal music teacher Eve Albright in an email to the school board. "Every year we are asked to do more, for more children with less and less resources. When is it going to stop?"
As both sides head to the bargaining table to hammer out a new contract, so far the two sides are not close to an agreement.
The district has offered a 3 percent raise and no increased contribution for medical insurance costs. Teachers are asking for a 7 percent raise, plus increased district contributions to help cover spiraling medical insurance costs, said union President Guy Moore.
He said teachers are willing to let the district phase in increases in medical insurance contributions, if it agrees to an initial increase of $4,000 per teacher.
"We want to continue over a series of years as money comes back," he said, "so that someday we're equal with the other bargaining units."
In a move many have since come to regret, in 2000, Mt. Diablo teachers gave up full medical coverage in exchange for a salary boost. They earn $44,650-$82,326 plus stipends of $1,307 for a master's degree, doctoral degree and National Board Certification. But Albright says the salary boost didn't keep up with the pace of skyrocketing health insurance premiums.
"I'm upset because every year my pay goes down because of the rising cost of benefits," she said.
Eighty percent of current district teachers weren't employed in the district when the union voted to give up most medical benefits. Mt. Diablo pays the health insurance bill for other full-time union employees and their families, capped at the 2010 Kaiser rate, while teachers receive about $3,300 a year toward health coverage, leaving the rest up to them. For example, Albright pays nearly $18,000 toward the $21,000 annual cost of Kaiser family coverage.
Other East Bay districts surveyed for this story pay a greater share of medical insurance costs for teachers. They range from San Lorenzo, with a $5,395 contribution for family coverage, to San Ramon Valley, which pays the full cost of employees' Kaiser family coverage.
Mt. Diablo trustees discussed contract negotiations in closed session last week and plan to meet in closed session Monday to review the district's budget and discuss options for improving compensation and benefits for all employees, said Board President Cheryl Hansen.
"We're optimistic," she said.
Board Vice President Barbara Oaks said the district won't know for sure how much money it will get from the state until June, but calculations indicate the district could receive 4.4 percent more this year.
"I am hopeful that we are going to look at positive movement," she said. "But how much, I don't know."
Superintendent Nellie Meyer said there are competing demands for the budget, and she has to make sure the allocation is in line with new spending formulas outlined by the state. She said Mt. Diablo, like all districts in California, must also plan for the possible loss of federal funding for low-income and special education students because of the state's decision to eliminate standardized tests this year. That could result in about a $20 million hit for Mt. Diablo.
Here's a breakdown of compensation packages in some other East Bay districts:
Educators in San Ramon Valley earn $44,376-$83,949, plus $2,277 for a master's degree or National Board Certification. The district pays the full cost for Kaiser individual, two-person or family medical coverage.
Martinez teachers earn $40,087-$77,055 plus $500 for a master's degree, doctoral degree or bilingual certification. Teachers pay $25 for single Kaiser coverage, about $122 for an employee plus one and about $184 for family coverage.
Pittsburg teachers make $41,429-$76,884, plus $936 for a master's degree and $1,456 for a doctoral degree. Medical benefits are capped at about $6,248 a year for an employee, $11,896 for an employee plus one and $15,285 for family coverage.
San Leandro teachers earn $44,797-$87,742, and receive $6,928 toward health insurance costs.
Teachers in San Lorenzo make $46,386-$93,862 plus about $1,439 for a master's degree or nearly $3,598 for a doctoral degree. The district pays about $5,293 annually for individual coverage or about $5,395 toward family coverage, with cash in lieu available to those who opt out.
Antioch teachers make $39,799-$51,928 plus $952 for a master's degree and $894 for a doctoral degree. The district contributes up to $10,140 a year for insurance for an employee only, $12,600 for two people, and $14,400 for a family plan.
Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Ashly McGlone, Eve Mitchell, Elisabeth Nardi and Lisa White contributed to this story.
The Mt. Diablo school board will hold a special closed session meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss union negotiations at the district office, 1936 Carlotta Drive in Concord. The public is invited to comment before the board goes into closed session. More information about the meeting is available by calling 925-682-8000 ext. 4000 or at http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us. Click on Nov. 4.
Details about the Mt. Diablo Education Association teachers' union are available by calling 925-676-4664 or at http://ourmdea.org.