Education board eyes project labor agreement despite Fuller’s objections

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Although Boardmember John Fuller wanted the item pulled from Tuesday’s agenda, the Martinez Unified School District Board of Education took its first look at a proposed Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that would govern contractors working on many of the district’s Measure R-funded construction projects.

Fuller said the Board’s subcommittee had not met to review the document prior to its presentation to the full panel.

“This PLA was brought up as soon as the (Measure R) bond passed,” he said, noting that previous Boards twice rejected having such agreements that at their core prohibit strikes or other work stoppages in exchange for requiring non-union employees to pay into the labor organizations.

Multiple other provisions were included in the pact that would require participating union contractors to focus on giving Martinez area residents the jobs and support the district’s students who seek career paths into the trades.

Fuller has expressed at several meetings his concern that the District has “negotiated down” some of the provisions originally suggested for the agreement. “This is not about building a partnership,” he said.

He also has worried about the cost of developing the contract as the number of meetings between the labor and District representatives increased. “This could have been done in two meetings,” he said. “We’ve been sold a bill of goods.”

He also conceded he was on the minority side. Boardmember Kathi McLaughlin, who has had her own reservations about the agreement, was absent. Board President Jonathan T. Wright, Vice President Deidre Siguenza and Clerk Bobbi Horack were present at the meeting that was moved to Tuesday because Monday was Memorial Day, a holiday.

Siguenza said she wanted the topic kept on the agenda, so members of the public could speak. But she also said she supported letting the subcommittee review the document before the full Board makes a decision.

“I’d like to think we’re trying to put the best foot forward,” she said, explaining that the reason for a PLA is to obtain qualified, well-trained labor, improve the lives of local families as well as be fiscally responsible.

The Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council approved the agreement 11 days before the Board was to review it, Wright said.

“This is the first time I’ve heard anything about problems with the first reading. The issue came to the Board two times,” and the panel gave its negotiators directives to follow, he said. If Boardmembers wanted it amended, now was the time for that discussion, he said.

He said the PLA wasn’t “picture-perfect,” but he said he believed strongly in the agreement. He had spoken with a neighbor whose child, a multi-generation Martinez resident, was being graduated from an apprenticeship program. “That’s why it matters to me,” he said, adding that his neighbors were just one of many families who would benefit by the PLA.

Joe Lubas, representing the Associated Building Contractors of Northern California, offered his own suggested amendments: That it would apply only to Measure R general contracts exceeding $25 million, but not to subcontracts less than $1 million; that quarterly reports to the Board would detail where workers live, their gender and ethnicity, any new business engagement or cultivation, whether they are veterans, the number of union and nonunion companies had placed bids, the percentage of union and nonunion contractors working in Martinez and Contra Costa County before the PLA is adopted, a comparison of bid results and engineer estimates and proof that contractors used skilled and trained workforce according to the Education and Public Contract codes.

Lubas also made suggestions about wage and benefits and core employees, said companies using Martinez residents or MUSD graduates should be exempt from the PLA, said that no restrictions should be placed on apprenticeship programs so long as they’re approved by the state apprenticeship council, and suggested ways the PLA could be suspended or terminated.

No decision was made, since this was an introduction of the agenda item.

After hearing a comprehensive update on the state educational budget, called the May Revise, by Debbie Fry, director of Management Consulting Services, the Board agreed unanimously, if somberly, to cut $3.19 million from its budget by the 2019-20 fiscal year.

That move is required if Contra Costa County is to approve the MUSD budget, Horack reminded the panel.

Fry’s presentation “brought home the financial issues we’re having that makes this necessary,” she said. “My fear is these cuts are going to be deep.”

“I don’t see us having any other choice,” Siguenza said.

In Fry’s presentation, she said in the past, governor-proposed budgets were conservative in January in terms of anticipated revenues, and by May, income would be better than predicted. However, Governor Jerry Brown’s January proposals and May revisions usually remain fairly consistent.

He has made California the world’s fifth largest economy and has led the state out of a deficit and into a $6 billion surplus, and 47 percent of the budget goes to education, she said. But the state also is facing problems, from traffic, varying property taxes to homelessness. Revenue may be dropping and is expected to be flat in future years, she said.

School systems are being expected to show greater transparency, she said, especially regarding students’ accomplishments and in sharing information with parents. Changes in how funds will be audited independently are expected to increase those costs. Districts must prepare not only current budgets but also budgets for two subsequent years, based on current conditions, modifying them as those conditions change, she said.

Martinez Unified gets revenues through its average daily attendance, but enrollment is declining in the District, she said, reducing the amount of money it receives.

There’s a finite amount of money for students with disabilities, such as autism or other learning barriers, and as the number of those children increases, less is available to help each child. “There are not enough dollars to serve students,” she said.

District costs of education employees’ retirement programs are rising, too.

A shortage of cash, rather than poor budgeting, causes school districts to fail, Fry said. “It’s easy to fix a budget issue. It’s not easy to fix cash flow.” And because school districts are spending money faster than revenues come in for seven months of the year, they must conserve during the remaining months so they’ll have enough funds.

Wright was concerned that changes in retirement programs mean newer employees pay in more for fewer benefits. Going into teaching means giving up Social Security. “Why go into teaching when you lose Social Security?” he asked.

While many approved Proposition 64 so California could get revenue from the marijuana industry, of which a share would go to education, Fry said that money has not started to show up in state revenues.

In other matters, the Board adopted a Memorandum of Understanding with New Leaf Collaborative, a nonprofit organization based in Martinez and dedicated to supporting students through hands-on learning opportunities in science, nature and ecology.

It also approved purchasing instructional materials for advance placement college level physics and physical science classes.

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