It’s a state funding problem, local superintendents say about teacher pay

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As teachers across the Santa Clarita Valley seek raises and express concerns with their current pay, superintendents are saying their hands are tied when it comes to the subject.

The heads of the Saugus, Newhall and Castaic school districts all cited the state’s severe shortfall in educational funding as the greatest factor that’s keeping districts from paying teachers more.

“We’re tied to a funding model that is based on (average daily attendance),” Castaic Superintendent Steve Doyle said, “so if kids aren’t at school, like our district and several in the SCV, then we aren’t making money.”

“Enrollment drives revenue,” said Jeff Pelzel, Newhall’s new superintendent. “So when you have a demographer’s report that says you’ll be down 200 kids,” then districts are limited in what they can do regarding teacher pay.

“The second thing that goes with that is the (State Teachers Retirement System and the Public Employee Retirement System) costs, which are very taxing on a district,” Pelzel added. “The two things are like a perfect storm to prevent districts from giving larger raises that they would otherwise want to be able to give.”

While Newhall is currently in the middle of negotiations with its staff, the Castaic Union School District approved a raise for its teachers in April that will show up as a 3 percent increase in the salary schedule, along with an additional 1 percent one-time bonus, as well.

Saugus officials also recently approved a 2 percent raise for staff and faculty that will take effect in the upcoming school year, along with a $50 monthly increase to the health benefits cap or a $25 monthly increase to cash-in-lieu for employees who waive medical benefits.

Saugus Superintendent Colleen Hawkins said the raise was a result of the district’s board and teachers coming to an understanding about the district’s financial situation.

Every School district in the state of California receives their funding via the Local Control Funding formula, and “Saugus is one of the lowest funded school districts in the state,” she added.

Despite this, Hawkins said, “We do everything we can to pay our employees at the highest possible rate given the formula that the state uses to fund schools.”

The goal and priority of the board is to never be forced to lay off teachers, Pelzel said. “To (their) credit, even through the lean years, we haven’t had to lay off staff or cut vital programs.”

The board wants to honor teachers and give as much as they can, Pelzel added, but it also has a fiscal responsibility to ensure that in one or two years, there won’t be cuts to any jobs.

“Next year and the year after are our two toughest years in terms of generating revenue,” Pelzel said. “If the district were in a different situation with increasing enrollment, then more opportunities (for raises) would be provided,” he added.

“Unfortunately in the last few years, the governor has chosen to give schools money in the form of one-time money,” Doyle said. The few million in one-time funding that districts received this year can’t be put on the salary schedule, because districts aren’t sure if they can count on it next year, meaning it’d be financially irresponsible to plan raises around it.

“We would love to pay teachers top dollars and benefits but there’s only so much money to go around,” Doyle added. “General fund money picks up the cost of all the things that aren’t adequately funded,” such as transportation and special education, which encroach the budget to a greater degree each and every year.

Nevertheless, Hawkins said, “I think that the school district, with the governing board, will continue to do everything possible to work within the confinements of the current funding formula to support our employees.”

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