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School board votes to cut pay of Palmdale teachers, staff

Palmdale Elementary Teachers Association members rally outside a July 16, 2013, school board meeting.
Palmdale Elementary Teachers Association members rally outside a July 16, 2013, school board meeting.
Calvin Robinson

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The Palmdale School District Board of Trustees voted Tuesday night to implement proposed salary cuts and furlough days for its employees.

The 4-1 vote immediately institutes a 3.8 percent salary cut, up to nine furlough days and a hard cap on employee health benefits. The cuts would go up by an additional 8.4 percent next year.

"Obviously this is going to have a dramatic impact on our membership – many who will be losing their homes, defaulting on loans," said Hugo Estrada, president of the Palmdale Elementary Teachers Association. "It’s going to be a very hard time for our membership."

Estrada said that the cuts add up to about $1,000 each month for district employees.

“Can you imagine what our members are going through right now, thinking about losing that much money from their monthly checks?” Estrada asked. “That’s going through my mind right now. What am I going to do? What’s my family going to do? There’s so much at stake here, not only for my membership, but to my family as well.”

Palmdale Superintendent Roger Gallizzi said the cuts will save the district about $12 million, which it needs to keep afloat.

“Why the union would think that we can balance our budget after being deficited 22 percent a year by the governor for the last five years, they must think we’re miracle workers,” said Supt. Gallizzi.

He said the district has until now shielded Palmdale school employees from cutbacks that neighboring districts have put in place.

“This district has not had furlough days, nor pay cuts, nor salary freezes when every other district around us and virtually every district up and down California has,” Gallizzi said. “At some point, you have to pay the piper.”

Estrada said those claims don’t take into account earlier concessions by the union, including staff reduction through attrition due to increased classroom size.

The union said the cuts are unnecessary because Governor Jerry Brown's new funding formula gives all districts more money for the coming school year  - and gives an extra boost to those with high numbers of low-income and English-learning students. Estrada said his union estimated the district will receive an extra $8 million in unrestricted funds.

Gallizzi said the district simply couldn't bank on that money until all the state finalizes the plan.

“There is new money, without a doubt, but the concentration grants of the local controlled funding formula have not been decided how it can be spent yet,” Gallizzi said. “So out of an abundance of caution, the district won’t commit to money it doesn’t know what rules apply to it yet.”

He said that the language in the board’s decision allowed for the cuts to be rolled back if and when extra funding comes down from Sacramento.

“We’re very confident that the majority of these draconian cuts will go away before the end of the year and we believe most likely before the end of the actual calendar year,” Gallizzi said.

The district first proposed the cuts in November. The union and the district have been at "impasse" over salary negotiations since February. A  neutral mediator  was called in to meet with both sides and make suggestions. She issued a report agreeing that the district can't keep paying salaries at the current level, but she thought the cap on benefits was too harsh. Neither party was bound to the mediator’s suggestions.

Estrada said that if the board doesn’t decide to rescind the cuts at its next meeting, the union will hold a vote authorizing its leadership to call for a strike. He said 91 percent of members who answered an earlier poll said they’d green light a strike.

“The executive board would take everything into consideration at that point and make the best possible decision for our membership and for our students,” Estrada said. “And if a strike is what we need to call, then our executive board is very ready to call for it.”