As union representatives from the San Mateo County Educator Association (SMCEA) and county officials prepare for another round of contract negotiations for special education specialists later this month, the San Mateo Office of Education wants to dispel the notion that it’s able tap into $7 million in county reserve funds to help raise salaries or bolster benefit packages.
The $7 million question has been a particular bone of contention among Association members who cite stagnated and inadequate salaries as central to their mounting frustrations with the county. The roughly 140 teachers, nurses and counselors that make up the SMCEA have been working without a contract since August.
Nancy Magee is a community relations official for the county’s office of education. She said that while it may appear that the county and the Office of Education are flush with cash, in fact, a number of state regulations currently prohibit the money from being dispersed.
“The union is frustrated that they see the money in those reserve accounts and feel like they should be able to benefit from that. While we are bargaining in good faith and we do expect that we will reach an agreement, the union is asking for a 9% raise, and I think a lot of that is based on their interpretation of the reserve account.”
Magee said that the money came from property tax collections, which the typically go to fund the county office, and the educational programs that the county supports. But, Magee said, there are strict limitations placed on how much of that money the county is able to allocate for operational expenses.
“Whatever our revenue limit is from the state, we have to hold to that level. Just because we have excess dollars from property tax, doesn’t mean that we’re allowed to spend them,” she said. In other words, while the money can be collected in the form of property tax revenues, the county is bound by the spending limits placed on it by the state’s education code.
San Mateo County is also set to lose $4.5 million in reserve revenue next year as the state works to phase out Regional Occupational Programs (ROP), which provide career preparation classes to work-bound youth and adults. “Because the state is eliminating ROP, we will not be allowed to access that $4.5 million for next year,” Magee said.
Whether or not the county’s response will at all placate the SMCEA remains unclear, but Magee said that above all, county officials “fully expect to settle with a fair, reasonable and responsible resolution… The county office of education is definitely bargaining in good faith with an expectation that we can come to a reasonable agreement with the union.”
The next round of negotiations has been scheduled for March 20.