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Elk Grove Unified School District Trustee Tony Perez

Trustee Tony Perez on Sept. 21 accused Elk Grove Unified School District officials of unfairly dealing with the local teachers union at the expense of other school employee unions.

He spoke after his school  board heard a transit workers union representative call for pay raises for the district’s school bus drivers and mechanics.

“We need to make ourselves more sensitive to our employees - that’s the bottom line,” Perez said. “And if that hurts your feelings, I’m sorry.”

The trustee shared his allegations before the board voted 6-1 to approve a tentative agreement that includes salary increases for members of the Elk Grove Education Association (EGEA), which represents the district’s teachers.

Under the agreement that was ratified by EGEA members, teachers are due for a 2% salary increase for the current school year as well as a retroactive 2% pay raise for the last school year that ended this July.

The new salary increases would raise the district’s total expenditure on certificated employees to $279.5 million in the current fiscal year, according to a district staff report.

Earlier that night, trustees held a conference with labor negotiators during a closed session.

Perez cast the lone vote against the agreement after a confrontation with a few trustees who countered that he misrepresented how they reviewed the EGEA deal during the closed session.

“I want to say for the benefit of the public that what was represented in terms of our negotiating   process was not an accurate depiction,” Trustee Nancy Chaires Espinoza said.

The board’s situation occurred soon after the trustees listened to Glenn Oliveira, an Elk Grove Unified mechanic and a representative of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 256, which represents the district’s school bus drivers and vehicle mechanics. He said that the Local 256’s members are overdue for pay raises.

“It’s a shame that we’re not paid in a competitive wage when you think about the cargo we are responsible for transporting – that cargo just happens to be the most precious part of this community, our children,” he said.

At the board’s Sept. 7 meeting, several Local 256 members protested the district’s ongoing negotiation process for their new contract. They called for a 20% pay raise that would push starting driver salaries to the $18.98 range and would match the pay that’s given to bus drivers in other districts.

They said that the district’s proposed 4% raise for starting wages would be the lowest among districts in the Sacramento region.  

On Sept. 21, Oliveira said that the district has an estimated 500 vehicles but only seven mechanics to repair them.

“Our teachers are near the top in pay and our (school district) executives are at the top, and yet, you need a 20% raise just to be competitive?” he said. “This is beyond acceptable.”

Before the board voted on the teachers’ union agreement, Perez said that he has not seen district officials perform equitable contract negotiations with unions since he started serving on the school board in 2012.

He claimed that district officials first “meet and greet” EGEA representatives and then set aside a percentage in pay raises before they start negotiating a new contract.

Perez later said that district officials should instead set aside percentages of funding for all union bargaining units before they reach agreements with the district.

“But no, we don’t do that here,” he said. “Why? I’ll tell you why, (it’s) because you buy them off. You buy workers off.”

Perez added that he understands that good salaries can help keep employees in the district.

“But what happens to the other bargaining units, what’s left over?” he said. “This year, especially when we have millions and millions of dollars, we cannot say we do not have money.”

Tensions rose after Board President Beth Albiani told Perez to “wrap up.” He mentioned the speeches given by Local 256 members that night.

“It really breaks my heart, I cannot believe this and what I hear beyond closed doors, I cannot tell you,” Perez said. “I cannot believe that we have not listened to them and what they need to make them proud employees.”  

Trustees Gina Jamerson and Sean Yang countered his claims.

“You make us like we don’t care, and that’s not true,” Yang said. “We care and I shed tears when I was listening to the testimonies earlier.”

Jamerson told Perez that he had an opportunity to express his concerns during the board’s closed session, and he instead waited until the regular board meeting to be divisive.

“I take offense that you’re implying that we’re not listening, we’ve all taken it to heart,” she said.

In response, Perez said that he raised his hand to speak during the board’s closed session but he was left waiting to comment. He added that other trustees freely spoke without raising their hands.

“Then the time runs out by 6:30, and then we have to run over here,” Perez said. “I know these strategies that go on with the board because you do not want to hear the truth.”

Afterward, Albiani said that trustees are legally obligated to keep closed board sessions closed.

Superintendent Christopher Hoffman then told Perez that mutual respect is needed when district leaders interact with each other.

“We can do really, really hard, challenging work and talk like this, and care about each other, and get our point across without having to dig on somebody else,” Hoffman said. “We don’t have to knock somebody else to make ourselves elevated.”

Perez represents the Florin community in the school district’s Trustee Area 1. He is serving his third term after he was reelected last November.