Hart district teachers putting pressure on as contract negotiations continue 

A cohort of Hart district teachers attended Wednesday's governing board meeting to show their displeasure over the current status of contract negotiations. They proceeded to walk out of the meeting in unison. Tyler Wainfeld/The Signal.
A cohort of Hart district teachers attended Wednesday's governing board meeting to show their displeasure over the current status of contract negotiations. They proceeded to walk out of the meeting in unison. Tyler Wainfeld/The Signal.
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Teachers and other certificated personnel within the William S. Hart Union High School District are putting increased pressure on the district as the Hart District Teachers Association is working through month eight without a contract. 

As part of an organized effort, 73 representatives from all schools within the district walked out of Wednesday’s governing board meeting after John Minkus, president of HDTA, addressed the board. 

According to Chris Jackson, a math teacher at Canyon High School and organizing chair for HDTA, the district has told teachers that, based on projections, the district has been expecting to lose money every year since at least the 2017-18 school year. But the district has actually not lost money in any of those years, Jackson said, and had $116 million in its ending fund balance at the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year. 

“This is money that should be spent on education, on our current students,” Jackson said. “And we’re not spending it because the district is so concerned that we’re about to go bankrupt. But every year, that (ending fund) balance goes up, and we’re not spending money where we should be.” 

The current demands of HDTA are an 8.22% salary increase and an 8% one-time payment, according to Jackson. He added that HDTA would also like to see an increased wage for additional hours worked, with that amount currently at $39 per hour, and an increase in the stipend for additional responsibilities, such as coaches and band directors. 

Jackson said the district has been offering no salary increases and 5% one-time payments. 

In a statement sent to The Signal on Thursday, Hart district Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said that the district appreciates the work that teachers do but that it must balance salary demands with long-term fiscal health. 

“We know that teachers and support staff are the heart of our work, which is why 80-85% of our spending is dedicated to their compensation and benefits,” Kuhlman said in the statement. “Considering their outstanding work, I don’t begrudge them at all for advocating for increases in pay and benefits. Our task is to balance those demands with our need to ensure the long-term fiscal health of the district. That’s what’s happening through the negotiations process and I’m thankful that we can continue to have that conversation.” 

A cohort of Hart district teachers attended Wednesday's governing board meeting to show their displeasure over the current status of contract negotiations. Tyler Wainfeld/The Signal.
A cohort of Hart district teachers attended Wednesday’s governing board meeting to show their displeasure over the current status of contract negotiations. Tyler Wainfeld/The Signal.

Jackson mentioned the 8.22% cost-of-living adjustment that the state gave to every school district for the 2023-24 school year, the largest COLA ever given out. He said HDTA is not asking for all of that to be appropriated to teacher salaries, but teachers do want “a fair part of it.” 

“It’s difficult as the cost of living goes up to not know if our salary is going to go up some,” Jackson said. 

Negotiations continue as the district is in the process of developing its budget for the 2024-25 school year. 

Ralph Peschek, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, gave a presentation on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s January update to the projected budget for the next fiscal year. The update shows that school districts should expect a 0.76% COLA for 2024-25, followed by 2.73% in 2025-26 and 3.11% in 2026-27. 

All three of those numbers are below what was expected when the budget was presented in June, with the original COLA projection for 2024-25 sitting at 3.94% at that time. 

Peschek added that, due to less-than-anticipated tax revenues in 2023, there is a significant budget shortfall for the state, with the governor predicting that shortfall to be $37.9 billion. The Legislative Analyst’s Office, which generally has a more pessimistic prediction of the state’s budget, according to Peschek, anticipates the tax revenue shortfall to be $3 billion higher. 

The governing board approved a fiscal stability plan — as directed by the Los Angeles County Office of Education due to declining enrollment and attendance numbers resulting in anticipated losses of revenue — in January that will see the district save roughly $46 million over the next three and a half years. The plan still has the district spending from its reserves over that time period, but at roughly half the level as was previously budgeted using the updated COLA numbers. 

Those numbers could change if the COLA does not decrease as significantly as expected when the governor provides his May revise, after which the governing board would then approve a budget in June based on that state budget revision. 

“We will build our budgets based on what the government tells us in May,” Peschek said, “but the Legislature won’t necessarily adopt their budget until mid to late June, and we will already be basically done with our budget.” 

A cohort of Hart district teachers attended Wednesday's governing board meeting to show their displeasure over the current status of contract negotiations. They proceeded to walk out of the meeting in unison. Tyler Wainfeld/The Signal.
A cohort of Hart district teachers attended Wednesday’s governing board meeting to show their displeasure over the current status of contract negotiations. They proceeded to walk out of the meeting in unison. Tyler Wainfeld/The Signal.

Essentially, the district is playing a guessing game with the budget, not knowing exactly how much funding it will receive from the state. Peschek said the district has been using the more pessimistic model from the Legislative Analyst’s Office to build a budget. 

What Jackson questions is why, if the district received a large COLA for this current school year, the teachers, as well as counselors and other certificated employees, aren’t seeing some of that increased revenue. He also questioned why the district waits to negotiate a contract with HDTA until after a budget has been created. 

That’s a point that Minkus hit on when addressing the board, saying HDTA members shouldn’t be handed “what’s left over.” 

“We are tired of being treated with disrespect,” Minkus said. “You got the largest cost-of-living adjustment since 1986; we get our fair share. That’s the way it works.” 

Governing board member Erin Wilson, who represents Trustee Area No. 4, sympathized with both HDTA and the classified employees of the district, represented by the California School Employees Association. She referenced a speech delivered by Mia Reed, president of Chapter 349 of the CSEA, which represents Hart district employees, at the beginning of Wednesday’s meeting. 

The CSEA is also currently negotiating a contract with the Hart district. 

“When Mia stood up and said, ‘I would like to be paid for what we deserve,’ I felt like saying, ‘You deserve a million bucks. I would love to give you a million dollars,’” Wilson said. “I love our teachers. I love all of our service employees, whether they’re from HDTA or from the CSEA.” 

Wilson said she was also sympathetic to a group of West Ranch High School students who spoke in favor of salary increases for teachers. The students spoke of the work that many teachers do outside of class time, with many teachers viewed as invaluable resources that students can use. 

Board member Joe Messina, who represents Trustee Area No. 5, said some of the information that was shared by supporters of teacher salary increases was not entirely accurate and that teachers have been given raises over the last few years. He added that paying the teachers more would be the easy solution, but that the district has to think about future expenses as well. 

“It’s easy to say we’re not paying you enough,” Messina said. “But remember, the district’s expenses have gone up just like yours have.” 

Jackson is optimistic that negotiations will take a turn at some point, but if that does not occur, HDTA is prepared to “respond to what’s been offered.” 

“We are very reactive,” Jackson said. “We respond to what’s been offered. And we have plans, we have a lot of possibilities, but we’re optimistic that they’re going to negotiate in good faith. 

“This is very difficult for our members, and our members don’t want to do this,” Jackson added. “Our members want to focus on kids. That’s why we became teachers. We care about the kids. And we don’t want to have to do this sort of thing. We want to just focus on educating kids.” 

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