Members of the Associated Calexico Teachers union rally outside the Calexico Unified School District office on Andrade Avenue on Monday morning, June 14, in Calexico as union negotiations get underway. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
CALEXICO — As pandemic-delayed contract talks resumed this week between Calexico’s teachers and the school district, leadership is keeping it cordial, yet the slogans written on signs carried by teachers outside the district office hint at a deeper rift.
“Shame on CUSD,” “Value ALL of Your Employees,” and “Keep Qualified Teachers in Calexico” were just a few of the messages on hand-drawn posters carried by members of the Associated Calexico Teachers as they lined Andrade Avenue to get the attention of passersby on their morning commute in an effort to rally public support for the opening of negotiations on Monday morning, June 14.
The teachers’ union has been operating without a contract for the past two years and has not received a cost-of-living adjustment for the past four years, officials say.
For their part, Calexico Unified School District officials indicate that the money might not be there to make big concessions, as declining enrollment numbers continue, and a forecast of financial shortfalls loom large in the district’s future.
During the June 14 negotiations, CUSD officials presented union members with information about the district’s current and projected revenues and expenditures.
Parties are scheduled to meet again on Monday, June 21 to further discuss the district’s projected finances, ACT negotiator Juan Rodriguez said. No proposed contract amendments were discussed on June 14, he added.
Negotiations had taken place prior to this week’s talks but were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodriguez said on Tuesday, June 15.
Both sides continue to negotiate in good faith and previously were able to establish a memorandum of understanding for summer school instruction, he said. Nor have any issues emerged that Rodriguez said could suggest an impasse may occur.
“We hope to reach a settlement soon,” he said. “Hopefully, it will pan out for both sides.”
ACT members are particularly concerned by a proposal by the district to place an annual cap on teachers’ health insurance expenditures. The union is further contending that teachers’ salaries fall below those of other local public-school districts.
“We want to get competitive salaries to attract and retain qualified teachers,” Rodriguez said.
Calexico Unified board President Ciro Calderon said that he, too, is hopeful that both the teachers’ union and the bargaining unit representing classified personnel are soon able to respectively reach an agreement with the district.
And while he acknowledged that Calexico Unified teachers’ salaries may fall below those of other local school districts, union members’ benefit packages provide a comparable incentive when they are factored into the equation.
“I’m not going to say they are No. 1, but they come out on top,” Calderon said on Tuesday, June 15.
Negotiations have also been complicated by the fact that Calexico Unified has observed a steady decline in its enrollment numbers, which in turn impacts revenue, he said.
“If we don’t have as many students as before, our funding will decrease,” Calderon said.
The district’s enrollment reportedly stood at about 8,300 students for the past school year. It has observed and is further anticipating a drop of about 200 students annually, said Maribel Paez, CUSD business manager, during the board’s June 9 meeting.
Cesar Vega, CUSD assistant superintendent of business services, further explained during the June 9 meeting that expenditures are expected to outpace revenues over the next three fiscal years and impact the district’s ability to maintain its reserve fund.
The district’s 2021-22 fiscal year ending fund balance is projected to stand at $24.2 million. That figure is expected to drop to about $7.2 million at the close of the 2023-24 fiscal year, according to a budget presentation by Vega.
The projected steep decline prompted board President Calderon to interject.
“I don’t even want to ask what it looks like for (the 2024-25 school year),” he said.
In response, Vega said by that year the district’s reserve fund could potentially fall below the minimum threshold of 3 percent. He also acknowledged that the district’s projected finances could change for the better between now and then.
District revenues are projected to drop over fiscal 2021-22 and 2023-24 from about $166 million to about $132.7 million, while expenditures are projected to track from $169.7 million to about $142 million.
Expenditures related to employee salaries and benefits account for about 75 percent of district’s budget in fiscal 2021-22, noted board Trustee Richard Romero during the June 9 meeting.
“That’s a big chunk,” he said. “It’s something you cannot control.”
And though Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing for 2021-22 a combined 5.07 percent cost-of-living adjustment for the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, which funds K-12 schools, it is not expected to completely offset the district’s anticipated increased costs in workers compensation, retirement, and health and wellness benefit rates in the short- or long-term, Vega said.
While those anticipated expenditures are expected to present a hardship for the district, they do not present its biggest financial concern.
“Our biggest challenge is our declining enrollment,” Vega said.
By the 2023-24 school year, enrollment is projected to be about 7,940, according to the meeting’s budget presentation.