RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa schools ratified labor agreements with three of its four unions this week, leaving only a new contract with its 1,400-member teachers union still to be negotiated.
District negotiations with unions covering school supervisors, administrators and classified employees came together last week. The school board wasn't aware of the terms of two of the tentative agreements and that the unions had ratified them until just before Wednesday's school board meeting, according to school board member Todd Groves.
"At least we're not cutting anymore," Groves said, in describing the agreements. "It's still not fun to be employed in our district, and that's got to change."
West Contra Costa's roughly 300-member supervisors union, composed of office managers and clerks, will receive a 0.5 percent pay increase beginning July 1, along with small increases in district contributions to benefits at a cost of $336,000 over three years.
About 1,100 classified employees, including custodians, instructional assistants and other support personnel, will receive a 1 percent salary increase over three years and increases to the district contribution to health care benefits, Groves said.
The administrators union, including principals and vice principals, received a similar deal, he said.
Board member Charles Ramsey emphasized that the agreements included so-called reopeners over salary, benefits and other issues that will kick
"This is just to get us through this year," Ramsey said. "We were thankful that we were able to get (agreements) done within a couple of months. We ended up having to impose a contract in 2009."
As negotiations with the United Teachers of Richmond continue, the board heard from about 15 teachers who complained about not receiving raises for four years, heavier workloads, overcrowded classrooms and dramatically increased employee contributions for health care.
Teachers who have not reached the top of the district's salary schedule do receive automatic pay increases as they accumulate experience and pursue further education.
The district began charging employees and retirees for some of their health care benefits and lowered its contributions for dependents dramatically in 2009, Groves said.
"We have a defined contribution plan for health care now where the district's costs are capped and the employees are responsible for the cost increases," he said.
West Contra Costa is still paying about $22 million out of its roughly $160 million budget on health care for roughly 2,000 retirees, Ramsey said.
"Our budget is being eaten up by retiree health costs," he said. "The voters have helped us meet program needs by passing parcel taxes."
If the district amortized the cost of the retiree benefits to cover potential increases in health care costs, it could amount to about $40 million a year, or roughly a quarter of the district budget, Groves said.