By Bill Guy
Strengthened by a California Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) ruling last January that said the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) had violated the law by engaging in bad faith bargaining, the San Diego Education Association — now in its seventh month without a new contract — is standing firm in demanding a fair, equitable and reasonable proposal that deals with major work issues faced by its members.
“The PERB ruling is a huge victory for SDEA members,” says SDEA President Camille Zombro. “It is further evidence that the district has not been up-front with SDEA’s negotiators, and that their refusal to bargain cannot continue.”
The PERB charges against SDUSD included: canceling two of five scheduled bargaining sessions last September and October; rejecting SDEA requests to schedule additional sessions; attempting to postpone the negotiations process until after the Nov. 4, 2008, election; and failure to come prepared to bargain at sessions, as evidenced by refusing to make proposals or counterproposals. The ruling completely validated the unfair labor practice charge filed by SDEA last December.
According to Zombro, the top issues San Diego teachers want to see addressed in the contract include numerous workload issues. “Teachers are working harder than ever, but top-down changes in programs are cutting down instructional time and creating unsafe conditions in schools.”
San Diego teachers have experienced massive increases in assessments. In addition to the annual statewide exams, many teachers administer 16 or more district-required assessments each year. Teachers must administer one-on-one reading tests starting in kindergarten that can take 30 minutes per student. One teacher administered seven tests in one day, and another says she lost an entire week during the course of a month to do her midterm tests.
SDEA members have also seen detrimental changes to special education programs. The district has dismantled special education programs, while cutting teaching assistants in most classes and providing little or no clear direction or training to teachers on their new assignments. Special ed students are now fully included in general education classrooms at all levels, taught by teachers who have no special ed training. Specialist and general education “co-teachers” who share students have no time to plan their collaboration or to assess the students they share.
“Teachers and students are just thrown together with no understanding of what’s expected or how to make the classes work,” says Zombro. “SDEA wants to bargain a workload model over the existing caseload or class-size model. We want a model that takes into account the actual work required to meet students’ needs, rather than simply a number of students assigned to each individual teacher.”
Continuing low salaries of SDUSD teachers compared to county colleagues are also of concern. Over the last two years, teachers in the district have risen from 37th to 32nd (out of 38 county districts) in career earnings. While that’s an improvement, SDEA members say, they still have a long way to go, especially since San Diego County’s salaries lag behind those of other coastal counties relative to the actual cost of living.
“The district appears to want to settle the contract quickly, but their proposal doesn’t address our major priorities,” says Zombro, “and they aren’t willing to part with any of the money, projected up to $144 million, they stand to gain from a proposed early retirement incentive offer over the next five years.”
On Friday, Feb. 13, in the first bargaining session conducted in the shadow of the PERB bad faith ruling against SDUSD, the district responded to SDEA’s last proposal by offering to “settle the contract now,” with a two-year contract and immediate re-openers on wages, benefits, transfer policy, evaluation and up to two additional articles. “The district’s positions were unacceptable to SDEA,” says Zombro. “Agreeing to that proposal would allow the district to avoid the legal constraints of the unfair labor practice ruling that is now forcing them to bargain with us in good faith.”
“SDEA has made a fair, equitable and reasonable proposal that deals with major work issues, while the district seems focused solely on wage/benefit issues,” says Zombro. “SDEA members have clearly expressed that workload increases and the impact of changes to special education must be addressed in any contract settlement, and we are hopeful that the influence of the three new board of education members SDEA helped elect to office late last year will facilitate the process toward a speedy contract settlement.”