Free Lance Editorial: With ruling, HSD group should accept cuts

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It was no surprise that a fact-finding panel recently ruled in favor of the Hollister School District, which had come to impasse in talks with the classified bargaining unit representing about 200 employees, and now it is in the union’s hands to do the right thing and accept the brunt of this reasonable offer from administrators.
The fiscally troubled Hollister School District had come to an impasse with the classified unit in June. The district already had reached agreements with the teachers and management units for proposed cuts. The only remaining group that has not accepted the reductions is the classified unit, whose leadership has argued that those employees in recent years have taken a relatively unfair chunk of the annual, multimillion-dollar cuts imposed by the district.
Hollister officials offered a compensation cut that would reduce the district’s annual contribution to the employees’ healthcare benefits from $13,600 to $10,600 – the same cap accepted by the other employee groups – along with the same salary reduction of 0.25 percent. The district had been asking for a total cut of about 23 percent of staffing costs, with total savings from the classified unit of about $220,000.
It seems harsh on the surface, but not so much when you consider that the district’s prior annual deficits spurred a state designation requiring an outside auditor’s approval on spending and the fact that the HSD spends about 93 percent of its discretionary income on employees’ compensation – that figure being at the high end for districts statewide. National economic conditions, in fact, have been amplified in San Benito County and, in particular, at the Hollister School District. The HSD’s projections show the district remains in danger of falling below the minimum, required reserves of 3 percent and again failing to meet the state’s minimum fiscal standards.
The two sides in June apparently took the only, reasonable approach left on the table. They went to the arbitration panel, which made a definitive ruling based simply on data in ruling against the classified unit, with the decision coming down about two weeks ago. The premise was simple, yet profoundly sobering: With a state requirement that districts show a balanced budget three years out and projections exhibiting Hollister will fail to meet the minimum standard, the panel ruled that the district simply cannot afford anything but significant cuts from the classified employees.
The panel recommended that the district should, indeed, cut the health cap to the $10,600 level but nix the 0.25 percent pay reduction.
Those district employees and their union should accept the ruling as fair and objective. While it largely serves as a boost in leverage for the district and does not carry any direct mandates for either side, it should point to a short-term end to these lengthy negotiations.

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