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Teachers at the Ramona Unified School District are being asked to take a salary decrease of almost 10 percent, in part to help the district pay for loans it took out to build new facilities.

As we outlined in this story last week, the small rural district took out millions of dollars in loans to build new schools and upgrade facilities. The officials who took out those loans hoped to pass a bond measure to pay off their debts. But the conservative community has repeatedly refused to pass a bond, and rejected the latest measure in November. Now the loans are coming due.

Meanwhile, a protracted labor dispute between the district and its teachers union has continued for more than a year. The district declared an impasse with the union in March and the two sides have been in mediation ever since.

Superintendent Robert Graeff said the loan payments account for just one portion of the deficit the district is facing next year. He said the repayments account for just $500,000 of an estimated $3.5 million deficit.

“The bulk of that would have been there whether we had taken a loan out or not,” Graeff said.

Donna Braye-Romero, president of the Ramona Teachers Association, disputes the district’s numbers. She says Ramona Unified has continually projected that it will end the school year with a negative balance, only to find that it actually has money left over to carry to the following year.

And Braye-Romero said it’s not right to ask teachers to sacrifice to pay off a loan they had little to do with.

“Even if we worked for free, they couldn’t pay off the loan, and it’s not fair to ask us to work for free because they made a bad choice,” Braye-Romero said.

Like every California school district, Ramona will have to wait until January to find out how large its projected deficit is for the 2013-14 school year. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to increase school funding after the passage of Proposition 30, which guarantees billions of dollars for education spending.

Braye-Romero said the union won’t let the district fall into insolvency, but she said teachers need to see what the governor’s numbers are before agreeing to any deal with the district. She said teachers in Ramona are being asked to take pay cuts that are excessive and far greater than elsewhere in the county.

Last year, teachers in the San Diego Unified School District agreed to forgo pay raises they had been promised and to continue taking five unpaid furlough days in order to avoid more than 1,000 teacher layoffs. However, as we noted in this story, most district teachers still got pay increases during the year.

We’ll be keeping our eye on Ramona to see what happens.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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