Two weeks into the 2007 fall semester, academic employees of the Ventura County Community College District (VCCCD) — instructors at Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark colleges — are without finalized contracts.

A board of trustees meeting Aug. 28 allowed for public comments but failed to finalize a deal in what chief negotiator for the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers (VCFCT) Connie Jenkins classified as a “stalemate.”

“We don’t feel that the district is making us an offer that is sufficient given the cost of living in Ventura County and the lack of a salary increase in quite some time,” Jenkins said.

Sue Johnson, vice chancellor of Business and Administration services for the VCCCD, said requests from the faculty and the union included a 6.5 percent salary increase and an increase of $1.5 million in additional types of compensation. By agreeing to dip into reserves, she said, the VCCCD was able to offer a 6.23 percent increase in salary for the coming year.

“We have done a lot on both sides and made a lot of compromises on language,” said Johnson. “Where we’re apart on is compensation.”

John Wagner, president of the VCFCT, said the requested “across the board” compensation is 6.5 percent, but that compensation increases total 9 percent.

The other 2.5 percent, he said, would include higher pay for “longevity increments” to serve senior faculty who have reached the last step in the salary schedule.

Additionally, the VCFCT seeks pro-rata pay, or increased pay for part-time teachers that would move them toward the equivalent of what full-time teachers are paid.

By Wagner’s calculations, a full-time teacher makes between 18 to 56 percent more than a part-time teacher with “the same experience, same qualifications, doing the exact same work.”

(In response, Johnson acknowledged that there were inequities in compensation between full- and part-time teachers, but did not have an exact percentage for the disparity.)

The VCFCT is also asking for a buy-in health insurance plan to be made available for part-time instructors.

“Currently they can buy into the district’s plan, but that costs about $1,000 month,” Wagner said.

Other requests included increased compensation for department chairs and improvements in health benefits for full-time faculty.

“All of those things add up to the 2.5 percent” between across-the-board salary increases and additional requests, Wagner said.

“That’s less than 1 percent of the district budget,” he added.

“[The VCCCD] has a 10 percent reserve, which is over $13 million. The state recommends a 5 percent reserve, so they have double what the state recommends.”

(According to a memorandum from the California Community Colleges System Office, the “minimum prudent unrestricted general fund balance” is 5 percent, and is more of a regulation than a recommendation.)

But the VCFCT’s position is that in the last three years, the cost of living in Ventura County has increased by 12 percent, the district revenue from the state has increased by 19 percent, but the salaries of community college instructors has increased by 4.8 percent.

Johnson cautioned against judging the disparity in pay increase and reserves in this way.

“Because of the pertinent actions of our board and any establishment of those reserves, when the state failed to pass the budget this year on time, the district was able to meet the payroll [needs] on time, because of the assistance of those reserves.”

Salary increases are an ongoing commitment as well, she said.

“Reserves are one-time money. There’s no way the district is able to meet a future salary commitment from one-time reserves.”

The issue remains that in one of California’s most expensive counties to live, community college instructors’ salaries are below the state average, according to numbers released by the California Federation of Teachers. A compilation of state community college salaries shows the Ventura County district’s maximum salary ranks 54th out of 73 total districts.

(The district’s entry salary is ranked 49th, but Johnson said that the VCCCD has not hired anyone in at the minimum amount in the last few years.)

Wagner seconded Johnson’s view on negotiation progress regarding non-compensatory issues.

“We have already come to agreement on some very important, nonmoney parts of the contract,” he says, “that cover evaluation, tenure review and assignment rights, as well as job security for part-time faculty.”