WATSONVILLE ­- Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees Chair Kim De Serpa said Wednesday that the district has taken a benefit cap for teachers off the negotiating table.

The anouncement brought cheers from the teachers in a packed Watsonville City Council Chambers, who had come to speak out against the district’s proposal.

Under the proposal, the district would have frozen the amount it contributed to employee medical benefits, meaning the teachers would have paid the difference when the costs increased.

The trustees also agreed to postpone a discussion of a raise for the district’s five assistant superintendents and Chief Business Officer Melody Canady, which brought another round of cheers.

The proposal to contain district costs by capping teacher medical benefits has drawn ire from the teachers, who say the district’s benefits package makes up for what they say is low pay compared to other districts of similar sizes.

Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers Chief Negotiator Jack Carroll, however, has said that that the district has a seven-year history of predicting losses and nevertheless having positive ending fund balance. Last year’s balance, he said, was $59 million.

But PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said that $59 million was reduced this year to $46 million. The district is further projected to deficit spend another $16 million next year, Rodriguez said.

That would mean that the district’s next financial projection would show the district unable to pay its bills within three years, Rodriguez said.

Carroll has also pointed out that the district has been offering the benefits without ensuing financial crises for the past two decades.

In addition, Carroll said that California has education funding in place for the next decade, thanks to Proposition 55, a voter-approved measure that was projected to bring in $7 billion for K-12 schools.

PVFT President Francisco Rodriguez said the announcement will allow the district and teachers’ union to come to the bargaining table in a better position.

“We’re ready to consider some serious negotiations,” Rodriguez said.

The questions now, Rodriguez said, are how to reduce the cost of benefit premiums for the district while at the same time finding a way to increase teacher salaries.

More than 200 teachers attended the meeting, far less than the 600 that packed the chambers at the previous meeting.

Ohlone Elementary School teacher George Feldman told the trustees that he could make $29,000 more if he took a job in Santa Ana.

Freedom Elementary School teacher Carie Gill said that postponing the discussion of a cap is a “great step.”

“But finding somewhere else to get the money is an even better step,” she said.

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