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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Whiney Wednesday

Since 2000 there has been a group of people working to unify my K-8 school district into a K-12 district. There is some questions as to the purity of their motives. I don't know about their motives. I do know, however, if I had had to drive my kids into the next town for high school instead of a mile away, their high school careers would have been much less rewarding for them. For that reason alone, 8 years ago I personally supported this effort.

Seven years ago, however, I started a two-year term as president of my local. The unification group (not teachers) learned from the state that if the teachers' union would support unification it would be pretty much a "done deal" with the state. It became apparent early on, however, that teachers in the district were dramatically split on this issue, and the decision was made by the exec board and the rep council to stay out of the issue completely.

And so we have.

Last year a new, interim superintendent started the school year by looking at our district to see where he could help. He noticed what we've been saying for years. Good teachers are leaving our district in large numbers because, even though our town is a very expensive place to live (about as close to a "rural" suburb of Los Angeles as you'll get, we have a lot of people from the entertainment industry living in our town), our teachers receive the lowest pay and worst health benefit package in our entire county. He also saw the reason right away. Although our district is in a condition of declining enrollment, has refused to consolidate school and we have too many tiny schools too close to each other. By consolidating schools (closing three or four campuses and combining their kids with the next closest school) the district would save enough money to move our salaries into the mid-range in the county. Even at that, when you combine salary and health benefits you get a compensation package that puts us back at the bottom. However, this was a start, a move toward a goal of "competitive compensation that attracts and retains high-quality teachers," a goal that even the Board president admitted they gave given "only lip service" for years. The problem, said the sup't, was that parents were going to be upset. Parents like having their children in tiny schools just around the block rather than a half-mile away. "If the Board is going to take the heat on this," the sup't warned us at three district faculty meetings, "they have to at least know that the teachers understand and support their action, and that support has to be visible to the public."

I was asked to be chair of the Active Teachers Committee and we did a fine job of showing support and showing the public that we supported school consolidation. Our teachers wore bright, school-bus gold t-shirts to board meetings (often over 150 teachers at a time, so many that the fire marshall would have to clear some out of the room.) We wrote letters of support, and stood together outside our schools before our contract hours began to show support. As expected, parent groups protested vehemently and the board caved, closing only two schools instead of the four needed to move us to the middle.

This year, however, the board has refused to negotiate in good faith for increasing compensation using the approximately $1.5 million saved through the closing of the two schools. I am, again, the Action chair only this time our goal is to put pressure on the board to fulfill their promise to use the money from school closures (which we are already paying for in larger schools and larger class sizes) to raise salaries again.

It's been going well. So well, in fact, that the board is now embarrassed and angry at us, and has decided to USE us to achieve their goal of unification. "The only way we will be able to give you raises is if we unify the district!" (A lie in a couple of ways. First, there is nothing in ed code that ensures that districts have to use any of their increased income to improve teacher salaries. Second, even though the board insists the district will have an "extra" $7 million to apply toward salary, they made such a mess of their petition that there were several aspects ignored that would not only eat up the $7 million but would put the new district hundreds of thousands of dollars in the whole from the get-go.) "Help us with unification and you will get raises!" they tell us.

I didn't think I could get any angrier. I've been working on my letter to the paper with the theme, "Teachers Held Hostage to Unification". Then yesterday our union rep presents us with a petition supporting the unification effort by asking the state to allow the issue to proceed to a vote, bypassing the appeal of a group of citizens questioning the budget imbalances.

The endorsement by the teachers is something they have wanted since 2000. Our exec board is trusting a woman who is a known liar, who will, I believe, "spin" this petition into an endorsement of unification, not a vote for unification. And our board went along with it.

When the board attempted to hold our compensation hostage until unification I was angry, but I just considered the source. But when my own exec pulls something like this, I feel like I've been sold down the river.

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