Facing some tough decisions, employees of the Mesa Unified School District began meeting Monday with administrators to work out the details of their upcoming contract.
The talks this year come in the midst of a substantial loss in enrollment and a major budgetary shortfall anticipated for 2008-09.
“What we are assembled to do here at this table is daunting,” said Joe Thomas, a teacher at Skyline High School, who is leading the negotiating team from the Mesa Education Association.
He said between the state’s budget shortfall and the district’s financial needs he believes the staff and administration may need to work harder than ever to come up with creative ways of being fiscally responsible while still addressing education needs.
Overall, Mesa lost 1,500 students between this year and last, said district spokeswoman Kathy Bareiss. This has resulted in the district needing to cut between $10 million and $20 million from its budget next year, and it is looking at a variety of possibilities, including the closing of at least one school, Jordan Elementary School.
Janice Ramirez, assistant superintendent for human resources, said the administrative negotiating team has been asked by the governing board to find places to make reductions.
“This is going to be a very challenging year,” she said about the meet-and-confer process. “We are going to need to cooperate. People are going to be impacted in a number of ways.”
Ramirez said with the drop in enrollment, the district has about 140 more teacher contracts than they have a need for. She said about 70 of those contracts are not filled now.
“When you don’t have as many students, you don’t need as many contracts,” she said.
Big issues such as the number of contracts and teacher salaries were not discussed at Monday’s meeting. Instead, the group discussed mainly housekeeping issues, including proposals to change the number of sick and personal days teachers are allotted. They will meet once a week for roughly six weeks before proposals are brought to the board.
The group representing the district’s classified employees is scheduled to meet for the first time this year at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the district’s Administrative Services Center, 63 E. Main St., Mesa.