Picketing for pay: Teachers protest for better cost-of-living adjustment | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Picketing for pay: Teachers protest for better cost-of-living adjustment

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Irene Kaelin, a fifth-grade teacher at Tahoe Valley Elementary School, demonstrates with other Lake Tahoe Unified School District teachers regarding their need for a cost-of-living increase on Monday afternoon at the corner of Highway 50 and Al Tahoe Boulevard.

With the backdrop of honks and a modified rendition of “Lola,” more than 200 teachers and other employees of Lake Tahoe Unified School District demonstrated in front of the district office, where mediation for a cost-of-living adjustment was underway.

At stake is what percentage of the COLA, delivered as state dollars most budget years, will be passed on to members of the South Tahoe Educators Association, which represents teachers and various support staff.

Howard Coleman, a teacher at South Tahoe High School, helped lead the masses Monday afternoon with a bullhorn and guitar, singing “COLA” to the tune of The Kinks’ “Lola.”

Coleman belted out several verses, including: “We don’t drink champagne or dance all night, all we can afford is candlelight, we who teach, we make it all go, all we ask is to see a little dough.”

The demonstrators were mostly teachers, with some children, spouses and dogs joining the crowd. Bus drivers, custodians and other members of the California School Employees Association rallied with the classroom instructors to show their support.

Picket signs read “District in the black, teachers in the red” and “We want what’s right, not what’s left.”

One count had the number of picketers at 220.

Walking with the bunch, 15-year-old Tanner Hart said he was supporting his mother, who works as a teacher.

Hart said he has seen his family’s budget tightening. His example was a lack of money for equipment for sports such as snowboarding, mountain biking and skateboarding.

Mike Patterson, vice president of the teachers union, referenced how the state has allotted more than 17 percent for a cost-of-living adjustment in the past three years. Teachers have seen a 1 percent increase during that span and have been financially squeezed with increases in areas such as health insurance, gas and housing costs, Patterson said.

In addition, the district has cut programs and closed two schools, but has since rebounded by adding back programs including class-size reduction and opening the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, Patterson said.

“The district has money for everything they want to do except pass it on to the teachers and support staff,” he said.

Patterson guessed it has been five or six years since teachers resorted to picketing. In November 2000, teachers carried signs in front of school campuses to protest after three mediation sessions left unresolved what share of a 10.9 percent COLA, or about $2 million, would be passed on to teachers.

Patterson hoped a resolution would be reached Monday. A full-day of mediation, if needed, is scheduled for today.

“It would be really good because we’re all working hard to start the school year and I personally would rather spend more time on my teaching than being out here in the afternoon,” he said.

The cost of living adjustment would be retroactive to the 2005-’06 school year if an agreement is reached. The district offered 2.25 percent the union felt was inadequate thus the need for a mediator. If an agreement is met, it needs the approval of a majority vote from the union’s membership.

Negotiations continue

Steve Hayward, president of the South Tahoe Educators Association, said mediation will continue today at 8:30 a.m. after more than four hours of discussion Monday.

“We’re basically at recess right now,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have some good information (today).”

District officials, such as Superintendent Jim Tarwater, could not be reached for comment.

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