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Redwood City Teachers Union Meeting with Parents

On March 16th, Redwood City school parents held a meeting with officials from the Redwood City Teachers Union to discuss impending cuts. The District is proposing a 5 day reduction in the school year and is relying on the savings from that to address part of the shortfall expected in next year's budget.

Panel participants: Lisa Carlos, moderator. Bret Baird, president of the RWC Teachers Union. William Crowe, president elect. Kim Combs, Classified Union Rep. Jean Martin, member of RCTA. Ara Prigian, CTA representative.

The next section has my notes from the meeting, edited for readability, and without my own editorial comments. You can stop at the end of that if you'd like, or go on to my rather bleak take on the proceedings.

Notes from the meeting


The organizers pose 3 questions to get the discussion started:

  1. Where is the union in the process of negotiating for this current year and what is your hope of where this process will lead?

  2. How confident are you that the union's position represents a majority of your constituents with this current contract?

  3. What are you suggestions to the district for balancing the budget in the coming year?


Lisa introduces the panel and lets the current president of the Union answer the three questions.

Bret welcomes everyone for coming, and thanks all for the work of the PTAs, the Redwood City Education Foundation, and finally parents in the classroom.

He starts with question #3. The position of the union is not to fire, hire or evaluate. The union does not take positions on this. Individuals can take positions, but the union does not. If the union takes a position it favors some members over others. Their job is to look for the best contract and working conditions, salary and benefits.

On question #1. Currently at "impasse". At the second day of negotiations, the Union said they would not be involved in suggesting cuts, and then the District got up from the table, interrupting negotiations. Bret points out the "impasse" has never been reached so quickly. This year the Governor allowed districts to reduce the number of school days by 5 days, a reduction that requires negotiation with the teachers' union. Bret implied that the School Board move to impasse quickly to force arbitration in the hope of forcing the Union to accept the 5 day cut. Currently waiting for arbitration to begin.

The Union is hoping for the status quo. They claim the mid-year cuts and current expectations of further cuts are projections based on the the Governor's January speech. CTA claims our District is on the conservative side on these matters, cutting early. The Union's job is to act as check and balance to ensure things are done properly.

On question #2. He's very, very confident that their position reflects the position of a majority of the members. They did a survey and got results back. Many of the members are upset about the mid-year cuts. The Union is an extremely democratic organization where everyone can speak at meetings. Any teacher can come raise issues and so can anywhere else. They meet the first Monday of every month at Red Morton.

Lisa: district website has papers with the current proposals from the District and the Union. Officials from the District were not invited to this meeting. After some discussion on why the School Board is not here, and what's confidential during negotiations, Lisa asked the audience to submit their questions.

Questions from the audience:


Has the suggestion been made to furlough District office workers instead of teachers? How about "furlough Fridays" like in Sacramento? Ara: furlough is unpaid. It's a bad term. 3 days a month for DMV and other state workers. It's mandatory to have an 180 day school year, but they allow a maximum of 5 days to be removed after negotiation with the local union. Unpaid days for teachers, no education for kids. The proposal is to remove 4 instructional days and 1 non instructional teacher day. Yes, administrators took some days too, but they work a longer year. Administrators reach the top of their salaries quicker than the teachers (6 years rather than 24 years).

What are the other points of contention for the contract? Just the cuts in teacher days. For 08-09 teachers took 0% salary increase. This year the union accepts the status quo, leaving everything the same. No salary increases. This in itself helps the district save money. 4.5M cut this year, already done. 0% increase and then the cuts, and also 0% last year. If you keep the contract going as is, the union will go into negotiations immediately for next year.

Susie Peyton: Last year after the school year ended, cuts came in retroactively and the district used the reserves which went down all the way down to the 3% limit. If the state makes retroactive cuts we can use our reserves down to 1%, and they can stay that low for 2 years. We need to be a little preemptive and conservative. This was the reason to try to cut days off the year, this year.

Lisa: union's position on dipping into reserves to 1% level? Ara: reserves started going down in past years. Questions the real levels of the reserves. Has not seen a disaster of this magnitude in years. Districts make budgets. Total uncertainty with Governor and legislature. Not enough information from the district to know whether they should be dipping into reserves.

Why not get involved in cut decisions when these will be happening? Ara: too many teachers to be laid off. Rails against Prop 13. Then on the Governor cutting the VLF. We need more revenue and to address this at the State level.

A teacher responds: the union is all the teachers. "It's not my job to figure out which of our colleagues should be cut." General applause. This is not a parent vs. teacher thing.

Susie notes that tenure rules determine who gets cut. It's all about money. And the district prepares for the worst case scenario. Susie justifies the actions of the district. Teachers have to receive pink slips by March 15th by law.

Bret: describes the process by which the Union operates. The contract is put together and needs to be ratified by the union members.

Can you share data about your survey with members? Bret: Listed the district proposals, which were overwhelmingly rejected by the members. No to salary reduction, no to fewer days. Uncomfortable with sharing survey information. Come to the next union meeting and ask for the data.

What can concerned parents do with Federally elected officials? Lisa: the pie we had has shrunk and the federal piece is not that large. Kim (secretary for the union): ask for help from private organizations. Susie: this is what RCEF has been doing for years. Bret: not happy with Education Secretary, Arnie Duncan. Susie: get the Federal Government to fund Special Ed to the full. Bret: we spend 7M of General Fund money on Special Ed. Susie: we should ask for this at the Federal level. Thea: there's legislation pending in congress about this. Anna Eshoo is involved.

How about evaluation process to priority teachers to be let go first? Bret: teachers are not qualified to evaluate other teachers. That's what people with administrator credentials do.

Explain who you think your adversaries are. Bret: our opponent is always ignorance and apathy. Back to the Federal Level, think of the difference between our approach to military funding and education funding. We're going to crumble from within. Spending on military doubled after 9/11. Have the military compete for their cut of the pie, using vouchers. Vouchers is now gone, current talk is about Charter Schools.

Do we have rights as tenured teachers who have received pink slips? Ara: tenured teachers are laid off too. Called "permanent" teachers, not tenured. Then talks about differences between Revenue Limit and Basic Aid districts.

Do teachers get seniority credit for previous work years? Ara: depends on the district. Layoffs affect seniority.

Lisa asks a process question: do you want to take questions from the audience? Bret: no.

Thea gives a speech about making the pie larger. California does not impose oil extraction taxes. Robert Reich's idea, to demand a bail out for education much like the bailout for the financial system. Last time there was major money for education was during Sputnik! These children created our current economy. Time to invest in Human Capital.

Bret: State legislators claim their hands are tied, but it's not true. Moderate Republicans hold out to get what they want. CTA suggests: force the Republicans to vote against unpopular measures.

Layoff teachers or reduce salaries for all, what would you choose? The union refuses to answer the question. It's all bad. Susie tries to push the issue trying to get the union to accept that the options are not equally bad. They will not go there. Let someone else make that choice.

What happens when we go bankrupt and someone else controls our schools? Ara: in Oakland they took power away from the School Board. Dictatorial power from the Superintendent. Bret: in the big districts, larger cuts, possibly an extra month out of school a year. Other districts are in worse shape than ours and the state would take over those districts first.

At that point the meeting ended with a reminder about the proposition to reduce the parcel tax requirement to 55%...

A rather bleak assessment


Before I start let me state unequivocally that I am 100% pro Union. Many, if not all of the social advances we enjoy today were the result of sustained, long term work by Unions. Let me also point out that it's deplorable that we have to ask our teachers, who are real life heroes, to reduce their salaries by anything at all. We should be paying more to our teachers, not less! I see how hard they work, how dedicated they are. I'm in awe of our teachers.

The worst thing we can do at this point is to take an adversarial position against any of the parties in Redwood City. I've said it before regarding School Board meetings and I say it now regarding the Union. We're all in this together and we all want what's best for the kids.

And yet, this meeting left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The tone was confrontational and the Union was defensive in its answers. This got worse as the meeting went along, as more of the answers failed to satisfy. I did not feel the Union was our partner in this struggle to do the best for our children. Instead, they refused to accept the current realities and take any position regarding possible cuts. The discussion was diverted quickly into State or Federal issues, which we all agree with, but which the local Union has a very indirect connection to. The refusal to answer direct questions from the audience was just shocking to me. And then there was the refusal to share the results of the survey sent to the members. There was a shocking moment when a Union representative suggested targeting local corporations to raise funds... which is what RCEF has been doing for years!

Basically, I felt that any solutions to the problem are left to us, the parents. The Union will stand aside, wait for arbitration, and hope for the best. And don't get me wrong: it's their job to get the best possible deal for their members. But if it comes to what we expect, where we either reduce these 5 days or face an even more draconian alternative, I don't see the Union standing with us picking what's best for the children.

The union represents the views of its members. I know some of its members directly, the wonderful teachers that have taught my daughters for years. They would never, ever, pick anything but the best option for the kids.

Comments

  1. What about 1 or 2 day cut for the union matched with an equivalent cut at the district? That's at least a starting point. If the union values all their teacher's then they must start somewhere. The money is not there. There are no options. Parents are losing jobs and taking paycuts, as well. Let's eliminate a day or two of testing which are wasted days, anyway. Parents can donate money or they can step up their involvement in their children's education at the school level or at home

    ReplyDelete
  2. parent number 123March 17, 2010 at 3:14 AM

    When a union rep tells you that their only concern is fighting for their members, believe them.

    I support organizing for wages, work hours, basic workplace safety, etc. However, the expansive and comprehensive issues they lobby for and win- as well as hard fought contract components- render parents, students and the administration feeble and should be prevented. The imbalance of power in the political process against the comparatively un-unified parents, and any other group who is actually organized for the children and nothing else, further cripples a broken system.

    Unions may be a good thing in many other professions, where children’s lives and futures are not at stake. Teachers’ unions have historically not protected children- they simply were not created for that purpose. They are one of the best capitalized and most powerful lobbying powers in the country, yet look at our schools.

    The teacher’s unions fight against nearly every effort to improve education in one way or another. Most recently, they fought against California becoming compliant to apply for “Race to the Top” funding. If you watch the California channel, you’ve seen it for yourself.

    I wish we lived in an environment where the wonderful teachers, who love what they do, stay because the job is overall worth it. And the teachers who stay even though they now hate their jobs are no longer protected by the staggering number of stipulations in their contracts that absolve them from performance standards, kindness, innovation, you name it. And the magnificent teachers who have given their lives to the profession are protected.

    But that’s not what the unions have achieved. Nor should they be expected to fight for kids, no matter what sound bite they publicize, given the reason for their existence.

    If you want what is best for your kids, and the children of others who will be wiping the grapefruit off our drooling faces when we are old, laws regarding lobbying and unionization in public schools must change.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am not sure the union represents the view of all its members. For once, my son's teacher (who received a pink slip) is hoping for the union to accept the furlough so she can have her job back.

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/dont-blame-teachers-unions-for-our-failing-schools/

    Very informative piece on teachers' unions. Please share with RWCParents yahoo group

    ReplyDelete
  5. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what they're talking about on the internet. You absolutely know how to bring an issue to light and make it appealing. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

    ReplyDelete

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