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BHEA, district begin contract negotiations for current school year

Ben Dahan news editor

Sophia Goldberg sports editor

Representatives from the district and the Beverly Hills Education Association, the bargaining unit for teaching staff, reached a tentative agreement for the 2016-17 school year at the end of May and look to hash out an agreement for the 2017-18 term this year.

Tentative agreement

BHEA president Telly Tse addressed last year’s tentative agreement, highlighting what he believes were the most important aspects of the negotiations, particularly maintaining the teacher salary formula, which was negotiated in 2014 for the following the three years.

“I think the number one thing [from last year’s negotiations] is holding onto the salary formula. Our position is that it is a good thing for the district and for our staff. And for it to continue is beneficial to everyone involved,” Tse said.

Other portions of the tentative agreement include the 11 paycheck cycle for the school year, updated language on leaves and benefits, the 2019-20 school year calendar, and a memorandum of understanding regarding security camera use on school grounds.

Superintendent Michael Bregy noted that negotiating over these smaller issues is usually easier than agreeing on “big ticket items,” such as salary and welfare benefit increases, which were kept consistent in the 2016-17 tentative agreement from the previous years, but are due to make a reappearance on the bargaining table for the 2017-18 contract.

“Everybody’s having a great conversation when it’s about language and work environment,” Bregy said. “But when it comes to salary and benefits, that’s when things usually hit the wall.”

Transition with new members

With much change occurring in the district administration, the 2017-18 bargaining team for the district is filled with fresh faces. However, Tse is hopeful that this year’s bargaining will be a smooth process for both sides.

“I think there definitely is a learning curve because many of the people at the bargaining table for the district are new. For example, I know [Executive Director of Human Resources] Luke Pavone is new to bargaining this year. The attorney on their side, Steve Andelsen, is someone who has been there for over a year now, so they can refer to him for institutional knowledge,” Tse said. “As long as they respect the bargaining process and respect what has been documented in the notes, I think the process should be smooth.”

Pavone, former House B Assistant Principal, is one of the newest additions to the bargaining table for the district. He feels that his new job description, where he deals more with the entire district as opposed to just one school, allows him to understand the issues and concerns of both parties.

“HR is very different, because now I work with the entire district and I deal with all of the issues going on in the district. So if there are any issues, concerns or complaints regarding students, staff from all of our bargaining units, parental issues, I handle all of that. Any grievances, I talk to the bargaining units, their lawyers, and we try to resolve any issues that we have.”

Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Dustin Seemann is new to Beverly negotiations this year as well. However, Seemann has experience negotiating for both school counselors and administrators in his previous district, District 214 in Chicago, Illinois.

“Even as early as ten years ago, I was a representative for my own school’s negotiations. I was representing the school counselors in the bargaining unit. I helped negotiate changes within my own job description,” Seemann said. “On the flip side, as an administrator, I have been the bargaining team on behalf of the administrative salary scale and benefits with my own school board.”

Seemann sees many similarities between the negotiating teams in Chicago and in Beverly Hills, with an emphasis on the students first and fair practices on both sides of the negotiating table.

“For me, I think [bargaining in Chicago and here] is pretty seamless. The teams on both sides have been very welcoming to me, which I think is awesome. I think the BHEA representation is great because its from kindergarten all the way up to 12th grade,” Seemann said. “The negotiating practices are very similar and I think they are pretty similar in a lot of really sound educational systems. I think both negotiating teams are all student-focused, how are we making students’ experience more successful, more exciting and more safe. I think as long as we keep it student-focused, we have always been able to be nice to each other.”

Goals and ground rules

Most of the first bargaining meeting of the school year, which took place on Aug. 29, was laying out and agreeing upon “ground rules” for future meetings. Looking toward future negotiations, Pavone explained that although each group is trying to advance what they believe is best for the district, both the district and the BHEA bargaining teams are cooperating.

“Overall, I think the teams are working really well together. Everybody is just looking out for their own personal interest, but obviously, on the district side, we have to really be fiscally responsible to the community,” Pavone said. “We have access to everything, the contracts, any tentative agreements, and MOUs (Memorandum of understanding) that were agreed upon, so we can always refer back to that. But it’s an ongoing process.”

In order to be competitive with surrounding school districts, Tse believes this year’s negotiations should look to increase health benefits for its teachers and extra pay for outside coaches.

“For this year, I think the most important thing is looking for an increase in health benefits. We had a slight increase a few years ago to improve the conditions, but we are still behind compared to many neighboring school districts,” Tse said. “The second thing is extra pay. For example, stipends for both academic and athletic coaching positions. This is an area, again, where we are lacking compared to similar school districts. The amounts haven’t been updated in over 10 years, so it’s hard to be competitive when we look for coaches when the pay comparison is very lagging.”

The district’s priorities, however, are to move away from the salary formula, which determines salary increases based on the increase in revenue from property tax, for all staff and bargaining units, not just teachers.

“Being totally transparent, we are going to be definitely talking about salary and benefits, since those are always the items we need to resolve and move forward with,” Pavone said.

Tse hopes for an easy negotiating period that will allow the district and BHEA to come to agreements that support both parties, adding that this will happen if the bargaining process plays out correctly.

“I’m looking forward to a continuation of a smooth process,” Tse said. “There is a certain process that bargaining team members are supposed to follow and I hope that will continue.”

Pavone shares Tse’s hopes for a bargaining year that encompasses the goals of both parties, and is confident an agreement will be made that does so. However, Pavone does see a fiscal downside to giving raises, especially with the projected budget deficits for this year.

“Obviously, each unit is going to want to bargain the highest possible raises for their people, and we understand that, but the district is coming in from the fiscal aspect. While we definitely want to grant raises and everything and have a nice increase each year, we have to come to an agreement on that,” Pavone said. “I’m confident we will come to some resolution, I just don’t know when that will be.”

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