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Ramona Teachers Vote to Strike ‘When and If It Becomes Necessary’

The Ramona Teachers Association "overwhelming approved" a strike authorization vote Wednesday, with more than three-quarters of the members in favor of calling a walkout "when and if it becomes necessary."

The California Teachers Association said 99 percent of the union took part in the two-day vote conducted at Ramona High School.

Schools chief Robert Graeff said the district is "disappointed that the teachers would take this action."

"We continue to hope that cooler heads will prevail before the union actually calls teachers off their jobs and out of their classrooms," Superintendent Graeff said in an email. "Frankly, we have difficulty seeing how a strike is good for anyone--particularly not our students and their families--and it is difficult to see what possible good could come from this threatened job action, whether now or sometime in the future.

The RTA's executive board said a strike would be necessary only if a fair contract settlement with Ramona Unified School District can't be reached. It would be the first teachers strike in San Diego County since a five-day walkout in San Diego Unified in 1996.

"Ramona teachers do not want to strike," RTA President Donna Braye-Romero said in a statement. "But we are not willing to accept the district's unfair, unreasonable imposition. The cuts will not only cripple us financially, but will ultimately harm Ramona's students and our entire community.

"If all other efforts fail, we now have the unity and support to strike as a final option."

Back in February Armando Macias, who has two children in third and fourth grade at Hanson Elementary, told Patch he hopes the parents of Ramona "really understand what this means if teachers strike."

"I, for one, do not want a sub in the classroom for any length of time," Macias wrote. "And think of Ramona's already slow economy and how that will affect us all!"

Other parents of RUSD students, like Michael Workman, have struggled with the decision to take his kids out of school in the event of a strike.

"My number one concern is for my children. They belong in school, learning," Workman said in April. "What I'm struggling with most is the possible negative impact on them being forced to walk past their teachers on a picket line. I know our teachers care about our kids. I hope they think about that when they make their choice."

Graeff said Ramona schools will remain "open and fully operational" should a strike occur, with substitutes being trained and on-call.

"We have fully prepared our site administrators so that our schools will remain safe for children and parents. Our schools will be fully staffed by qualified teachers who will be hired to carry out ongoing instructional programs for the 5,900 students who attend our 10 schools," he said. "Bus service, the breakfast and school lunch program as well as before-and after-school programs will also continue uninterrupted. If necessary, additional security will be in place on school sites to ensure a safe environment so that students and employees can enter and leave campuses freely."

The vote to authorize a strike came after a year and a half of failed negotiations between the Ramona Unified School District and the union, resulting in board-imposed cuts of cuts of 7.82 percent for 2012-2013, and 9.4 percent each for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.

"These cuts translate into a total three-year cut of $19,287 for the average Ramona teacher," said Braye-Romero. "But even more drastic is their insistence on six furlough days between now and the end of this school year and backdating health and welfare cuts to last February.

"The average Ramona teacher will lose $2,831 from each of their May and June paychecks, leaving many unable to pay mortgages, rents, car payments or care for dependent children or elderly relatives."

At a closed union meeting earlier this week, a lawyer representing the union said the district is essentially illegally garnishing wages, which is limited under federal law.

According to the attorney, Ramona Unified School District has "bargained in bad faith" and imposed an agreement, leading the RTA to file an injunction next week.

RUSD teacher and RTA bargaining chair Grant McNiff said at the same meeting that the union "will go back to the table" to negotiate with the district.

"We are trying to file an injunction to stop the imposition," he said. "This does not have to require a strike; it just has to be something we think about."

The Ramona teachers union claims the district also hid $800,000 from the fact-finding team during an investigation of funds.

The fact-finding results with the alleged $800,000 missing from the district's 2011-2012 budget, were made public on April 16.

The union says those funds, plus the proposed money from Proposition 30, which passed last fall, should be considered for salary and wage negotiations.

However, Graeff calls the alleged "hidden funds" a false allegation, stating that between the first and second interim budget reports, staff works to determine if any dollars might be going unspent.

"In this annual exercise, staff was able to sweep funds from vacated positions and projected school and department carryovers into the ending balance," Graeff said." Because we had begun to identify these funds prior to fact finding, we were able to make certain attractive offers that we hoped might lead to a settlement. Obviously, our offers were not attractive enough."

"RTA has repeatedly offered to take reasonable cuts, as evidenced by our last offer of 10.5 percent over two years," the Braye-Romero said in a press release. "We basically agreed to accept the fact finder's recommended settlement for the first year if the district would only agree to language that would restore money cut from teachers when new funds accrue, but the district repeatedly refused to compromise."

"Why are they intent on breaking teachers' backs financially and on cutting vital instructional days for our students now when it isn't necessary?" she said.

Graeff said the district's budget looks to be positive in the third year of the proposed teachers' contract by "not much more than $100,000," reminding that the neutral, third-party fact finder "completely validated all the district's budget numbers and supported a negotiated settlement."

"Her words then still apply: 'For all these reasons, the hair concludes that the district meets its heavy burden of proof and does have an inability to continue to pay personnel costs, including salaries and benefits, at the current level.'"

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