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Mt. Diablo district secretaries and instructional assistants speak out

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, October 15th, 2010 at 12:20 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

OCT. 13:

At the Mt. Diablo school board meeting last night, several secretaries and instructional and special education assistants spoke out about how a plan to cap the district’s contributions to their benefits would affect them. I videotaped a few of them, which I’ve embedded below.

Here’s special education assistant Patricia Gardiner, who asks trustees to spend a day in her shoes. “I know my value,” she said. “It’s a shame the board doesn’t.”

Here is CSEA union rep and member Kim Montaro telling trustees her bargaining unit rejected a tentative agreement that would require employees to pay higher health benefit contributions. She threatens to strike if a deal can’t be reached.

Here is board President Paul Strange explaining the district’s position.

Here’s what Superintendent Steven Lawrence told me about the proposal in an e-mail:

“The cap on benefits is based on the following for 10 month employees for Kaiser:

Employee Only:
District pays $6508.30 annually or ($650.83 per month for 10 months) Employee will pay $319.60 annually or $31.96 per month for 10 months

Employee +1:
District pays $13,016.60 annually or $1,301.66 per month for 10 months
Employee will pay $639.10 annually of $63.91 per month for 10 months

Employee +2 or more:
District pays $16,921.70 annually or $1,692.17 per month for 10 months
Employee will be $830.80 annually or $83.80 per month for 10 months

The dollar amount that the district pays would be the hard caps moving forward. The annual hard cap amount will be the same and will be divided by 10, 11 or 12 depending upon how many months an employee works. So the annual amounts will be the same, but the monthly amounts will be different because of how many times people make a payment during the school year. Any increase would need to be negotiated. Just as an FYI we also provide vision and dental for classified employees and are not asking to cap these benefits. The amount for dental and vision is approximately $1603 annually.”

The district is in jeopardy of state takeover, according to a Sept. 28 letter sent by the County Office of Education to the district, “Unfortunately, district approved and/or implemented cost reductions to date have not been sufficient to maintain the state required minimum reserve. Based on our review and analysis, we have concluded that the district does not meet the state required standards for fiscal solvency. Accordingly, the county superintendent hereby conditionally approves the district’s 2010-11 adopted budget.”

Bill Clarke, associate superintendent of business services for the County Office of Education, wrote: “The required reserve will continue to fall short of the minimum requirement by approximately $18.7 million in 2011-12 and $29.7 million in 2012-13. The 2011-12 and 2012-13 reserve amount is negative $(5.3 million) and $(23.9 million) respectively, indicating fiscal insolvency and the need for a state loan to meet district operating expenditures. Some or all of the district governance will be assumed by the state should a loan be required. The district must continue to take corrective actions to restore its fiscal health.”

District officials say the proposed cuts to benefits, along with furlough days (outlined in Plan B) would help them to make $9.8 million in ongoing cuts starting this year and solve their budget problems. They haven’t yet decided how they’ll spend the $6.5 million in federal jobs funds they expect to receive, which Congress approved to help prevent layoffs.

How do you think the district should solve its fiscal troubles?

After reading the above message from Lawrence, union rep Annie Nolen sent me the complete district proposal (embedded below), which shows that employees who work less than seven hours a day would pay substantially more, as well as those who choose Blue Shield coverage.

For 7-hour workers, Blue Shield coverage would cost $160 per month for the employee only, $320 a month including one dependent and $415 monthly with two or more dependents.

Six-hour employees would pay $125-$325 per month for Kaiser coverage or $253-$657 monthly for Blue Shield. Five-hour employees would pay $218-$567 a month for Kaiser or $346-$899 for Blue Shield, while four-hour workers would pay $311-$808 per month for Kaiser or $439-$1,141 monthly for Blue Shield.

“I want people to realize we’re not trying to be greedy,” Nolen said. “We’re trying to hold our heads above water. I had a lady crying to me, saying she thinks she has to quit her job because she can’t afford to pay this. I’ve had that from more than one, saying they don’t want to go. They love their jobs.”

In another e-mail, Lawrence wrote that the board gave themselves the same cap as the administrators, “which is actually slightly below the cap that was going forward on the CSEA proposal. In other words, they will pay slightly more money out of pocket on a monthly basis.”

This means trustees would pay the same rates as full-time administrative employees.

Do you think the district’s proposal is fair?

Health Plan Premiums

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35 Responses to “Mt. Diablo district secretaries and instructional assistants speak out”

  1. Lorraine Says:

    The full story of what was offered in negotiations is not coming out.
    What needs to be known is that the teachers union has not been in negotiations at all so the district is taking all the cuts from the non certificated unions. Not only is clerical staff being cut, but so is maintenance.
    Clearical has already been cut 2 weeks and 1/2 hour daily and they want us to take another 10 days of furlough as well as pay for the increase in health care in full after 3 years.
    I have lost $400.00 this year and having to pay out of pocket for health care is something my budget can’t handle. Many clerical and other unions have not recived raises in over 6 years, due to “increases” in health benefits. So losing salary and then to put another expense on to us is just too much to bear.

  2. Lorraine Says:

    Oops I meant I have lost $400.00 a month this year.

  3. tharrington Says:

    There was a board public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday regarding the teachers’ union contract that was not well publicized. The district didn’t post the agenda until about 5:30 p.m. Monday. It was not linked to the “meeting agendas and minutes” tab on the district’s website. On that site, when you click on Oct. 12, you only see the 7:30 p.m. regular meeting.
    To find the special agenda, you have to go to the Electronic School Boards site at Here, when you click Oct. 12, you see two choices: 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. You can see the teachers’ union proposal attached to this agenda.
    I heard that no one from the public attended the special meeting. Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the district had inadvertently left the contract off of the regular agenda, so decided to hold the special 6 p.m. hearing to allow for public comment.
    The contract proposal asks for increased hourly rates, as well as benefits increases “at the same average percentage of any increase granted all other district bargaining units for medical coverage for each year of the term of the agreement.” It doesn’t mention anything about caps.
    Also, interestingly, it asks “to make teacher evaluation more evidence-based and relevant to teachers’ professional practice.”
    What do you think of the teachers’ proposal?

  4. Nora Says:

    Evidence-based means test scores. Should our salaries be based on whether test scores go up or not, like in sales. Have you not read The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravich? Our educational system of embracing a corporate model is shameful. When we allow corporations, such as the Waltons of Walmart, Bill Gates Foundation, Broad, to support students in the name of education, dictate how students should be educated, we have allowed this business model for schools to be accountable (teachers, at the front line) but they are not accountable to us and use schools as tax exempt status. How unfair is that? When corporations give generous grants, they are imposing their own agendas. As a case in point, the Bill Gates Foundation experimented with dividing up a high school into smaller charter schools. Guess what? The classes were larger, less offerings of classes, such as AP classes and Bill Gates acknowledged in 2008 that his experiment did not work: the test scores did not go up. Embracing an evidence-based proposal is ridiculous and pits same grade level teachers against each other instead of working together as teams.This approach devalues why many dedicated people go into education.

  5. Ben Says:

    There has been more and more evidence that this “business” approach to education is not working. Test scores, such as the ones in Washington, DC with Rhee’s approach of firing 266 teachers and hiring new ones with the accountability, did not make any difference. Evidence-based is “test score” based. People forget about the diversity of the population in California, especially the bay area. That means the environmental factors play a large part in educating our children and cannot be solely on test scores or as Mr. Lawrence says, “evidence-based”. Have you read how many of the business approach to education has been based on grants from large corporations, such as “Walmart”, Bill gates and they have their own agendas and the districts that receive money must follow their guidelines. Some of the superintendents have been trained by the Gates foundation, and at the Federal government level, Arne Duncan has several people trained by these business corporations. We are minimizing what teacher training is about and focusing on the business models of education (like what do they know about education children?)

  6. How do you fix this... Says:

    Ben and Nora,
    You must be using the Union talking points. If a business model is not the answer, accountability based on test scores is not the answer, annual reviews by administrators is not the answer…
    Than what is? Please don’t blame it on diversity, there are plenty of examples where ELL students are thriving.
    Maybe the problem is the union. Maybe the fact that teachers are guaranteed not to be fired from their job protects the weakest in the field and does nothing to motivate those who are so-so teachers. It would be like telling your students you will give them an A regardless of effort, success, or attitude.
    If there was NO policy for linking teacher accountability to test scores would the two of you be willing to give up tenure and be evaluated annually by your immediate supervisor, like the rest of us?
    I didn’t think so.

  7. Laurie Says:

    Once again I was dismayed to read the article in the C.C. Times (Sun.Oct.17,page A21) only to discover the lack of transparency regarding the severity of the proposed cuts to hours and medical benefits for CSEA members. Kim Montano may have summed it up best at the board meeting when she used the word, “ridiculous”. It’s appalling to expect dedicated employees to continue their commitment to the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, and the students it serves, only to receive a paycheck well below poverty level standards. If the proposed cuts take place, I will receive less than half of the income I took home last year(with the already implemented one hour a day reduction and over $500 for my pro-rated portion of Kaiser). This is what I can expect after devoting twelve years of service as a special ed. assistant working with students who have moderate to severe disabilities in our district. Do I think the districts proposal is fair? Absolutely not. Some suggestions…? Let’s retain quality assistants and campus supervisors by basing the Pro-rated benefits on a six hour day rather than a seven or eight hour day which isn’t even available. Realistically we need to have some hope of a “cost of living” raise in order to offset the mounting increases we will pay as a result of the cap proposed on medical benefits. The contract we are being offered states there will be no scheduled salary increases during the life of the contract. It’s disheartening to see so many highly qualified, seasoned employees being forced to retire or change careers due to these proposed cuts. If we truly want to improve student test scores, secure quality para-educators (assistants), and staff, and continue to make MDUSD a desirable place to work,live and raise our families, we must offer fair wages and benefits. The District’s proposal for CSEA employees does not! And last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank Annie Nolen for casting some light on the accurate financial figures as well as the impact this proposal would have on CSEA employees.

  8. Laurie Says:

    To be exact, my portion of Kaiser, based on my five hour day (reduced from six hours a day) will be $567 PER MONTH (not annually)if the current proposal takes place.

  9. Lisa Says:

    Of course it’s not fair! The administrators and trustees make way more money than the $12-$17 an hour that assistants make. Last school year my health insurance for Blue Shield for a family of 4 was $140 a month. This school year it went up to $284,under the new contract, if it had been accepted, would have gone up to $650 a month. I am one of the few assistants that still have a 6 hour a day job. Most assistants got cut to 5 hours. The 5 hour employyes would be paying almost $900 a month for Blue Shield for a family of four. The 6 figured salary administrators won’t feel that kind of blow like I will bringing home $1,300 a month. Where is the fairness in that??

  10. Wini Koonin Says:

    The majority of CSEA members are 5 hr.employees.Monthly take home pay is around $1600 or less per month(only paid for 10 months per year) depending on years of service.Deduct payment for health coverage each month ($218 to$567 or even more) and see how much will be left to live on. Can Mr. Lawrence or the board members live on $1000 to $1200 per month? I doubt it. Why has no one addressed this issue?

  11. Stop the Whining Says:

    The board made $750/month before it cut its salary according to the agenda topic. Where do you think the schools are suppose to find the money to keep paying health care increases? All I hear is don’t cut me but no one is proposing where the real cuts can come from.

  12. Mercedes Says:

    Wow, The board members have forgotten that we, most Special Ed. Assistants were forced to take an hour cut a day, more than $400 a month, and to top it off they want (in my case) another $900 from my pay for insurance that I once paid close to $300. I’m out $1300 a month. And it is us who are in the classrooms working directly with the students. Things would be so much different if we wouldn’t gotten that hour cut. The children in Special Ed. do not deserve less.

  13. denise Says:

    It is terrible that CSEA is having their benefits capped, just as it was terrible for the teachers to pay ALL of their medical premiums for 8 years. Only last year did the District give us $330 per month toward our medical benefits. That’s $330.00 per month no matter what plan you have or how many people are in your family. We had to give up all other monetary requests for three years to get that. None of us should have our benefits taken away when we are already sorely underpaid. So where should the money come from? Perhaps we should not pay Board members salary or benefits. Perhaps they should be volunteers with good hearts. Perhaps the administrators should pay for 50% of their office’s supplies like many teachers pay for their own classroom materials. Perhaps the public should fund education fully by passing parcel taxes because they want an educated population serving them. Why does everyone want to take it away from the most underpaid in education?
    Unions are not the culprits. They do not keep bad teachers from being fired. Tenure does not keep a bad teacher from getting fired. State employment laws do that and even with those a teacher can be fired. All the divisive finger pointing doesn’t help any of us. It leaves no time for finding a workable answer.

  14. Laurie Says:

    The reality is that the district’s proposal for CSEA employees would base their contributions on a seven hour work day (which isn’t available!) as well as cap them for future increases (which should take place Jan.1). This follows the reduction in one hour per day that most six hour assistants received. It’s simply too many cuts to one monthly paycheck. It wont be long before we work all month and owe MDUSD a check for our hard work and service!! I agree with Denise, let’s start from the top with the Board members, and work our way down through the district making equitable cuts to salaries and benefits and see just exactly “where the real cuts can come from”. I’m sure that their love for their jobs as well as their devotion for the students in our district will keep them committed to their positions.

  15. Joe Smith Says:

    Denise and Laurie,

    Your arguments are nice, but when the rubber hits the road where should the money come from?

    What other services should be cut? I suspect you would propose raising taxes? So the gang of five can get more raises? Yeah right.

  16. Tired Parent Says:

    The managers were told they are taking a 3-year cap on benefits. For everyone else, it is a lifetime cap on benefits.

    Teachers, it’s really too bad that you union voted away your medical benefits, so you’d have a fatter paycheck. That’s your fault. Now you get $330/month increase. How nice for you, at the expense of the classified employes. You are willing to give a few token furlough days? Big deal. Some of us have given what equates to 20 to 30 furlough days, with our days and times cut.

    Cut executive pay, get rid of paying for outside lawyers, and quit serving dinners.

  17. tharrington Says:

    I asked Superintendent Steven Lawrence whether the cap for managers is only for three years.
    He responded in an e-mail: “No that is a false rumor.”

  18. Joe Smith Says:


    I suspect that Lawrence is not being completely truthful here.

  19. tharrington Says:

    Here is my question, from an Oct. 14 e-mail:
    “Also, I’ve heard the administrative cap is only in effect for three years, then they’ll get full coverage again. Is this true?”
    This was his exact response: “No that is a false rumor.”

  20. Laurie Says:

    Believe me when I say the stuff has hit the fan, or the rubber has hit the road, whichever you prefer….. As I stated before, I think we need to start at the top and cut there before we cut the lowest paid individuals in the district. The proposal from the district which was overwhelmingly voted “no” on was simply preposterous. CSEA employees cant afford to accept the proposal as it stands. I’m not in favor of raising taxes either, as it rarely trickles down to benefit the students in the classrooms. I’m sure everyone’s excited to see the 60 million dollar solar panels we will be receiving soon!! That should definitely help raise staff morale and student scores district wide.

  21. tharrington Says:

    This job posting for a personnel director says: “District paid medical, dental & vision benefits,” with no mention of a cap:

  22. Doctor J Says:

    A good question for Julie Braun-Martin — will she tell the truth ? Presumably she posted it. The Supt already has proved to be pretty slippery.

  23. Doctor J Says:

    New posting yesterday for $100,000 job — before furlough — Adminstrator — School Support also lists “District paid medical, dental & vision benefits,” with no mention of a cap.

  24. Sherry Whitmarsh Says:

    It would be refreshing if posts would reflect actual data.

    What Doctor J neglected to post was that this position is NOT a general fund position. This position is part of the Transformation Plans that was presented to the board at the end of the 2009 – 2010 school year. It is a three year position and being funded by the SIG grant.

  25. tharrington Says:

    Julie Braun-Martin told me yesterday that managers have accepted a health benefits cap at Kaiser rates. But she said no term for the cap has been discussed.

  26. Doctor J Says:

    Sherry, weren’t the jobs used to justify the $50,000 savings in reorganization filled prior to the start of the school year ? This new job you say is funded by the SIG grant is a new District job, isn’t that correct ? What you haven’t answered is whether there was an actual savings of $50,000 or more in the original jobs as stated by the Supt. Please give us the whole truth.

  27. tharrington Says:

    Julie Braun-Martin just told me in an e-mail that the benefits are the same for jobs paid out of School Improvement Grants as for general fund positions.
    “The salary schedule is the district salary schedule and would offer the same benefit package all administrators receive in the district,” Braun-Martin wrote. “It does not offer different coverage.”

  28. Doctor J Says:

    So is the health benefits cap at the 2010 rates with additional raises being paid by the managers, or does the cap float at whatever the then current rate of Kaiser so one who chooses Kaiser never contributes ?

  29. tharrington Says:

    According to the e-mail Superintendent Steven Lawrence sent me, the benefits would be capped at the 2010-11 rate and increases would be paid by employees:

    “The dollar amount that the district pays would be the hard caps moving forward,” he wrote. “… Any increase would need to be negotiated.”

  30. tharrington Says:

    Braun-Martin said in another e-mail that the district will let candidates know about the cap before they are hired.

    “We provide information about the medical health benefits in more detail when the candidate accepts the position,” she wrote. “The District is covering dental and vision and medical.”

  31. Sherry Whitmarsh Says:

    The SIG grant includes the additional resource located at the district office to cover multiple schools.

    Yes the $50,000 is correct.

  32. Doctor J Says:

    Sherry, would you please provide the exact number so I am assured that you have been provided the exact detail on the differences rather than just the “estimate”.

  33. tharrington Says:

    Tonight, the board expects to approve two contracts related to the SIGs.

  34. Sherry Whitmarsh Says:

    Exact number is $49,063.

  35. Doctor J Says:

    Thanks Sherry. Well, the Supt stretched the truth a little didn’t he ? The Supt said “generated over $50,000 in savings.” On August 4 he had to know the exact number since all of them had been on payroll since July 1. That kind of gamesmanship, along with Chevron and few other things, leads people to not trust him.

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