By Theresa Harrington
Union negotiations are under way in the Mt. Diablo school district as trustees hope to slash $9.8 million a year through furlough days, increased class sizes and reduced benefits. All bargaining units are at the table except for teachers, who are analyzing the results of a recent member survey.
School support staff represented by Annie Nolen, of the California Schools Employees Association, are facing especially hard times, she told the board Tuesday.
“Most of my members are already at poverty level or below,” she said. “With the new proposal, most would only bring home $400 or less per month. So, it gets worse.”
She acknowledged the important work that teachers do, but reminded trustees that other employees also make valuable contributions to schools and deserve to be recognized during Classified Employees Week, May 17-21.
Mike Langley, vice president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, said the teachers’ union was sorting through nearly 1,000 surveys received from members about negotiations. Union representatives are expected to present the information to teachers June 7, before negotiations can begin.
Superintendent Steven Lawrence said he intended to send teachers a letter today marking “The Day of the Teacher” and thanking them for their service. He said he feels the same sense of gratitude toward classified employees including secretaries, special education assistants and “people on the blacktops who solve disputes about whose ball it is.”
But the tone changed when teachers’ union president Mike Noce objected to plans for reforming four of the district’s lowest-achieving campuses: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point and Glenbrook Middle School in Concord. The plans include lengthening the school day, offering summer school and providing incentives for teachers.
“Please don’t go through with this School Improvement Grant application,” he said. “I feel this is being rushed through without bargaining. There are some things we feel need to be negotiated.”
Noce said some teachers at the schools have been told, “If you don’t like it, get out.” So, he said, a transfer system needs to be established.
“There is no state deadline, unless we just want to do a money grab here,” he said. “Why don’t we plan and do it right?”
Noce said the union isn’t willing to sign the grant applications due June 1 as partners in the plans for up to $2 million per school. Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, told Noce outside the meeting that districts have three years to negotiate items in the plans before implementing them.
During the meeting, Lock said all of the district’s schools with Academic Performance Index scores under 700 are creating plans for improvement. These include the six schools identified by the state as being in the bottom 5 percent, as well as seven other campuses. Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle School in Concord are the two other lowest-achieving schools, who will present their plans May 25.
The other seven schools won’t publicly present their plans to the board, Lock said. They are: Cambridge, Fair Oaks, and Ygnacio Valley elementary schools; El Dorado and Riverview middle schools; and Mt. Diablo and Ygnacio Valley high schools.
Willie Mims, of the Black Political Association in Pittsburg, said school plans should have buy-in from teachers, families and students.
“If students are not engaged, then you are asking for trouble,” he said. “A climate of respect is crucial. Students know and feel when you do not respect them. And if they feel it, then they will not allow you to teach them anything. A wall will go up and it will take a long time to bring it down….But if they know that you care, they will do anything for you…If you respect them, they will respect you.”
To help schools build positive learning environments, Lawrence said he had hoped to reorganize the district office administration by creating a Student Achievement and School Support division under Lock. He said he planned to appoint Delta View Elementary Principal Susan Petersen as the new Director fo Elementary Support, based on her work at that school, which led to tremendous gains in test scores.
“With the moves she has made at Delta View,” he said, “I believe she can be a big asset, particularly in low-performing schools.”
But the board tabled this idea at Lawrence’s request, after he said he was worried about the governor’s revised budget expected Friday.
“Hopefully not,” he said, “but we may need to be reducing more positions.”
Langley asked the superintendent to clarify whether employees in the new department would be getting big raises. Many employees are still bitter about raises totaling $55,000 given to five district office employees before Lawrence arrived, including $28,000 to the general counsel, boosting his pay to $190,000 a year.
Just before the board voted to layoff 200 teachers, Noce said he has heard that some high schools aren’t encouraging juniors to take six classes next year, because the board reduced graduation requirements.
“I hope the district isn’t trying to get kids to only take four periods,” he said.
Trustee Gary Eberhart the district is anxious to negotiate its cost-cutting proposals.
“Until we get to the table, until we start having substantive conversations about how we are going to stave off the eventual destruction of more and more jobs in the school district, this is not going to end,” he said. “It’s going to continue. I just hope the two sides get together as soon as possible.”
What concessions, if any, do you think might be reasonable for teachers and other employees to accept to help balance the district’s budget? Do you think the district should move forward with its School Improvement Grant proposals by June 1?
By Theresa Harrington