The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Monday, February 23, 2009

District Teachers Face Agonizing Choices

Under ordinary conditions, it seems unlikely that one would find a person more supportive of teachers than myself. I come from a family of teachers, I have myself been a teacher at times, and I believe in general teachers are unpaid for the importance of the job that they perform. Most people who suggest that teachers have an easy job and work only nine months, have either never taught themselves or never put a full effort into teaching. I am constantly amazed that teachers have the stamina to teach for eight hours and then go home to grade papers (no easy task) and prepare lesson plans.

I say this because after reading the full comments from the teachers from Casar Chavez Elementary School who also spoke up during public comment on Thursday evening at the school board meeting, I'm not sure I could really disagree with them more.

They write:
"First, we do not accept being placed in a position of choosing between salary reductions or seeing colleagues lose their jobs. It is the responsibility of the budget officer, the superintendent and the board to make informed, honest, transparent and responsible decisions.

At the all-district staff meeting held by Superintendent James Hammond on Feb. 11, we were given an ultimatum: Either we agree to a 4 percent permanent salary reduction, before a state budget is even approved, or there will be layoffs this year. We believe there are many more options than just salary reductions or layoffs, and it is incumbent upon the board to ensure that all options are thoroughly investigated."
I am unsure of where these individuals have been for the past few months, but if they read the newspaper at all during that time they might realize that across the state government employees (of which they are one) are having to make this painful decision across the board.

Yolo county employees have taken voluntary furloughs as the county faces a $22 million deficit for next year, in hopes that their colleagues will not be laid off. State employees represented by SEIU have reached agreement with the Governor to take what amounts to a 5% paycut, which is an improvement over the 10% paycut imposed by the Governor. These furloughs and paycuts are happening across a state that has recently had to cut $15 billion in spending due to the worst economic recession in 70 years.

The same thing is happening in the private sector--employees are being laid off in scores. There has been at least 500,000 and sometimes approaching 600,000 job losses per month. So the fact that the district is giving them a choice as to a paycut or pink slips, is hardly unique or surprising.

The teachers have a choice to make because right now the district is running deficits for the foreseeable future in the $3 million range.

The school board takes no joy in this. In fact, I have spoken recently to just about every member of the board and the reactions I have gotten borders on heartbreak for having to make these decisions. They did not run for school board to lay off teachers. But that is the choice that they now face.

I don't see many options other than salary reductions or layoffs and I have been over the budget as much as anyone this side of Bruce Colby. But I suspect if you have a counter-proposal the district would be glad to hear it.
"Second, the top four district administrators made an offer to reduce their salaries. This offer is contingent on the Davis Teachers Association's agreement to teacher salary reductions. It is wrong to pressure the teachers with a misleading public gesture. These administrators have recently negotiated with the board a raise for the 2009-10 school year as well as ongoing yearly increases. These increases add up to as much as 15 percent since October 2006."
I agree with the teachers that it was a mistake for there to have been any kind of raise for administrators. I think one of the worst decisions made was the decision to give Bruce Colby a 5% raise in December. It set a bad precedence and it looks bad to the public. Unlike last year, I think we had a pretty good idea as to what coming down the pike.
"Third, when asked about the magnitude of the administrators' raises, Superintendent Hammond expressed that removing these raises 'would not solve the budget problem.' The teacher whose position is erased by these raises certainly will have a budget problem to solve. "
On the other hand, they have offset these raises by cutting back on their own support staff, not through layoffs but through attrition. In essence, each of these individuals are having to go without support staff or performing the work of multiple individuals. Again I understand the point the teachers make, I agree with them to some degree, but they are focusing on literally pennies on the dollar here. There could have been no raises, and we would still be focusing on this plan which would require either layoffs or salary cuts. This is largely a distraction from the main issue.

"Fourth, we oppose the plan to build a $10 million high school stadium while there are schools such as Emerson Junior High which, last year, was under consideration for closure due to dilapidated facilities. Additionally, the long-term effects of the stadium financing on the general fund are not clearly delineated, and a clear payment plan has not been developed."

My understanding is that there are no impact of stadium financing on the general fund. That money comes strictly from facilities money. There was redevelopment money used to finance a portion of this. There was a strong safety issue and liability issue that exists with the stadium in its current conditions. My understanding of the issues with Emerson is that much of the repair and upgrades have to do with being out of date with various codes and can be addressed at a later point. No one believes that there are either safety or liability issues with Emerson.

While I would tend to agree in part that the district has done an exceedingly poor job of explaining this to the public. That it looks bad to be crying poor at the same time you undergo a $10 million renovation of a football field. Nevertheless, much of that public outcry is based on poor understanding of how school financing works and the fact that facilities money and general fund money that would go to instruction are completely separate, money available for facilities upgrades is not available for use in the classroom.
"We believe that salary reductions should be negotiated fairly and honestly, and only after the state budget is approved and allocations to the Davis school district are clear. Additionally, the offer of the top four district administrators should not be contingent on teachers' agreement to salary reductions."
To me this represents a lack of understanding of the collective bargaining process. The district cannot unilaterally impose changes to a contract. The changes to the contract such as reduction of salary must be approved by the Davis Teachers' Association. Therefore to a large degree the ball is in their court on this one.

As DTA President Ingrid Salim said on Thursday, it was her perspective and possibly that of the DTA membership that they would take their chance with 20 layoff notices (by her count, although the district is approving 36.6 FTE position cuts) than taking a salary cut. That is within their right to determine.

The second part of that is that they are demanding the administrators take a cut regardless. That cut is largely symbolic anyway. We are talking about maybe $30,000 or $40,000 in savings against a deficit of over $3 million over the next two years.

I am all for them taking it, but let us not make this out to be bigger than it is.

Unfortunately the district and board are taking a fiscally responsible step of identifying all of the necessary cuts up front and proposing a balanced budget for the three year period.

The really bad news is that this may not be rock bottom. There is increasing belief that the May revised budget from the state will have another deficit in the 11-figure range that will result in more cuts to education funding.

In short, while I sympathize with the position of teachers and all district employees as well as all state employees, I think that there is going to be little choice but to make the tough decision between salary cuts and pay cuts. I also think that the teachers are setting themselves up for deep layoffs in May, deeper than projected right now by not taking a further look at pay cuts.

By all means identify alternative budget cuts. All entities should do that. But if you look at the district budget, you quickly see where the majority of money goes, and it is to teachers.

It is my hope that the teachers work together with the district and board to make this as painless and cooperative a process as possible given the horrible circumstances that we face in this district, in this county, and in this state at this time.

---David M. Greenwald reporting