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Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Another Busy Week

Definitely feeling the strain, here.

This was one of those weeks where I chanted each day, "If you can just make it through Thursday night, you'll be OK." I had committed months ago to making a presentation about the Supreme Court to our local Democratic Club on Thursday night. The research was done, but I've been so busy with teacher action and doctor's appointments and being sick that I hadn't actually - well - WRITTEN the presentation. Monday and Tuesday evenings went to that task.

I had a bit of a challenge with it Monday because I'd taken a day off to go to Santa Barbara for my bi-annual visit to the ophthalmologist. Of course, I had to have my eyes dilated and it takes FOREVER for my eyes to go to normal. DH drove me up and back (I can't see a thing in that condition). When I got home I decided it might be a good idea to just shut my eyes for a while and ended up taking a two-hour nap. It did wonders in helping me kick The Crap (fingers crossed) but then I was groggy for the rest of the afternoon.

The principal canceled our staff meeting on Tuesday (he has The Crap now) and I managed to get the presentation mostly written. Wednesday after school I had to go to the Costco (in the next town) to get my prescriptions refilled and do some shopping.

And then it was Thursday. When I committed to the Dems, I didn't imagine that we would STILL be needing big demonstrations at school board meetings. But, that stupid board and the nazi they hired for a new superintendent (who, we learned last week, insisted that his staff take an oath of allegiance to him) just keep baiting us into action. Last December they made an "offer" of 3% (the COLA that came to the district was 4.56%) and they had tacked on a whole bunch of "poison pills" (like increasing class sizes and giving principals power to decide what we do in our prep time). Impasse was declared and a mediation date set for last Wednesday.

Now, there is a very important date coming up for the district THIS Thursday. For ten years, a majority of the board of trustees has been pushing to change our district from a K-8 to a K-12 "unified" district. It has proven to be very controversial, and the board has been lying to us about the costs to the district to make the change, so they don't have a whole lot of support from teachers. And teacher support is a very important element in getting state approval of this move. So, as of last week, they were faced with having to go to their final hearing this Thursday having to admit that they are in impasse in their contract negotiations. Not a good thing for them, so the superintendent ASKED our team to return to the table. Five teachers pulled out of their classes for the day, only to finally get the offer on salary at 2:30 in the afternoon. 2%! I guess they figured since they wouldn't get the poison pills, they could take back 1% of their offer. Our team did not agree, and we declared Black Monday. Thank goodness for email. On Monday morning a majority of teachers were dressed in black picketing for 20 minutes in front of their schools, and we scheduled picketing in front of City Hall Thursday at 5:00.

We had a decent turn-out of about a hundred teachers. A photographer from the local paper was there for an hour (but nothing's been published). The police were patrolling (this has not happened before so we assume the nazi sup't called them) but we were peacefully moving all the time so he didn't bother us. At six we moved into chambers for the opening of the meeting, then the board went into closed session. At that point I hightailed it to the Dems meeting for my speech.

My presentation to the Dems went very well. I had not picked up on the fact that Thursday night was the annual pizza dinner so attendance was at maximum, and we had just heard last week that, for the first time in generations, Democratic voter registration had passed Republican and we are now a BLUE county so everyone was in a festive mood. I started with the story of the phone person calling to make sure I wasn't the Miller on the school board; I just pointed to my shirt and said "I'm the other one. In fact, I'm the one who coordinates the protests against the board." DH came to watch me, and he spent part of his time judging how the audience was receiving rather than how I was presenting. He said they were "rapt" the entire time. I don't know about "rapt," but it was sure nice to give the presentation and not have to be watching for illicit phone use, drug deals, making out, spit wads... My presentation only took about 20 minutes, then I opened for "questions I probably won't be able to answer" which developed into a marvelous discussion. Interestingly, the people asked questions and made points during the discussion that gave me GREAT seques that I couldn't pass up. One woman got up and made a point of how important it was to get Dems to run for local offices. I took the opportunity to say, "I know at least a dozen people in this room right now who would make fantastic school board members. Teachers would love to see school board members who are wiling to do their homework, look at all sides and most of all, put what's best for kids ahead of personal agendas." Finally, the president signaled me that it was time to wrap up so I said I needed to get back to the school board meeting and I would take advantage of the captive audience to share a couple of pieces of information with them about the teachers. I told them that the school district received a total of 12.8% COLA over the last two years. I said that teachers don't automatically get COLA, we have to bargain for a part of it. That as of right now, our salary reflects 8% instead of 12.86%. In December, we had been offered 3%, but last week the district took that back and offered 2%. I said the teachers are not happy. I said that "today" (meaning Thursday) we received a copy of the agenda for next week's unification hearing in Sacramento that showed that instead of the 3% recommended reserve, our district has over 5% in reserve now, with expectations of being over 11% in two years. "I guess I know where my raise is." was the last thing I said about that. I thanked them for having me and headed out to applause, thanks, hugs and one gentleman who followed me out and stopped me to thank me again and again. All in all I think it was a successful effort.

I was delighted when I got back to chambers to see that more teachers had shown up for the regular meeting and most of the seats were filled. I had missed the interim budget report but heard, not surprisingly, it was doom and gloom. I got there just as the Board was having its "pat ourselves on the back" time. One of our more vocal teachers had a sign with "BS" on the back which she would turn toward the board at opportune moments.
Here are some of the highlights from the public comment segment of the agenda:
Two elementary teachers had created (and a bunch of us had signed) a huge card congratulating Trustee Miller on her 5% raise with the neighboring high school district. They did a mock presentation (meaning everyone, including TV) saw it but they didn't actually give it to her.
Our union president introduced the president of the union from a neighboring town, who proceeded to rip the guts out of our Board. He started with chastizing them for moving public comment to the end of the meeting and making "all these people" wait - "That's just rude!" he exclaimed. (I've never met this guy; he's no shrinking violet and was, in fact, shouting at the board.) "And then," he continued, "they come with prepared 3-minute statements, and you tell them NOW that you're limiting them to two minutes. That's rude, too!" He proceeds to tell them that their claims that they can't afford raises because of declining enrollment is ridiculous. "My district lost 1200 students last year and we're getting a raise! My district cares about us teachers and makes us their priority!" Then he turned to the teachers, sweeping his arm dramatically to the room and said, "Come join us. We give ten years [experience on the salary schedule], and we would welcome you!" He says to the board, "If you can't afford a raise that's not declining enrollment, that's mismanagement!" Then his two minutes were up and he walked out to applause and teachers calling out, "Thanks for coming!"
A parent got up and railed at the board for the way they're treating the teachers. Apparently there had been a lengthy discussion about the change from AM/PM kindergarten to all-day Ks (while I was gone) and several parents had spoken during public comment about the issue. At the end of her rant, this parent looks directly at Sandra Berg and says, "And how can you NOT KNOW which schools have AM/PM kindergarten!?!?!"
One of my colleagues spoke, giving an eloquent statement comparing the nazi sup't salary as a one- and three-year employee to my colleague's as an 18- 20-year employee ("By the end of three years the sup't will have made $245,000 more in his three years than I will have made in the same time with my 20 years of experience." And a $10,000 car expense allowance? What's up with that? We have teachers commuting from Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Oxnard, Ventura and Ojai and we don't get a car allowance!")
Finally, another of my colleagues (one of the Evil Eleven, a group of citizens that has dared to challenge the unification movement) got up with the agenda from the hearing in Sacramento next week. Her presentation was particularly powerful because one of the board members had already waved the report about unification in front of the camera and encouraged the general public to go look at the report because "you won't find a more thorough, accurate presentation anywhere". She started by saying she agreed with Mr. Speakman that people should go read that report. You should have felt the change in the energy in the room when she read from the report herself (citing page and section numbers), that even though the Board has been saying for ten years that PV teachers would get a raise from unification because the law says you have to make salaries consistent by raising the lower salaries, actually that raise is not required. By the time she finished that part of her statement, her two minutes was up and she said she had more but "guess my time was up." A tight-voiced board president said, "Go ahead, I haven't stopped anyone yet." So Nancy delivered the second of her one-two punch with the data from the report about the reserves being higher than the legal requirement. She ended by reminding them of their closed-schools-for-raises promises last year and expressed doubts about their promises of raises with unification. Very powerful.
She was the last speaker and the president could hardly get the words out to close public comment.
Most of the other teachers left at that point. I decided to stay (as I told one person, "They haven't looked me in eye enough tonight.") was glad I stayed because I was there when they were presented with the report of how the schools had spent their one-time block grants last year. One of the trustees was really ticked. Apparently last year when they moved the structured school and changed their focus from structured to magnet school, the board had assured the school that they could choose their focus and that the Board would support them financially with whatever they chose. They have chosen to be an arts/technology magnet and are now expecting the district to buy them computers. This trustee had, it seems, decided that each school would only get the $12,000 minimum block allotment, then the Board would use the rest (about $20,000 per school) to pay for computers for the former structured school. Somehow (maybe because of chaos in the district office?) that word didn't get to the right people, each school got their full allotment and, as of Thursday night, had not only ordered but had received the goodies! Now there's no money for Los Primeros. "But, we promised these people..." Just more proof of the meaninglessness of their promises, huh?
The other piece of important action was approval of March 15 (intent of non-rehire) notices for 25 teachers (15 elementary, 10 middle school.)

I did make it through Friday, although I barely made a dent in the grading I have to do. I got so behind while I was sick that I just have to accept it's not all going to get done.

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