By Bill Guy
Capistrano Unified Education Association president Vicki Soderberg speaks to the crowd at a March school board meeting attended by educators, parents and other community members.
“Sometimes you have to draw a line, and if the issues are as critical as the ones 2,200 members of the Capistrano Unified Education Association are fighting for, if it has to be a picket line, so be it!” said CUEA President Vicki Soderberg.
As the Educator went to press, striking CUEA members walked the lines for the second time on Friday, April 23, following a first strike day participation of well over 90 percent. CUSD student absentee figures for Thursday, April 22 indicated more than two-thirds of the district’s students stayed home.
Community pressure – and yet one more of a series of offers from CUEA for discussions that might lead to a break in the impasse – lead to informal talks between CUEA and school board representatives into the evening on April 22 with resumption scheduled for Friday afternoon, April 23. But striking CUEA members remained determined to stay out until a settlement was reached.
“A strike has never been the goal of Capistrano teachers,” said Capistrano Unified Education Association (CUEA) President Vicki Soderberg, “but members and hundreds of parents and community members are outraged over the CUSD board’s savage March 31 unilateral imposition of work year reductions and permanent wage and benefits cuts, including hard caps on future district contributions to health premiums.
“Even though the board helped select a highly experienced neutral fact finder – who recommended a settlement acceptable to CUEA and close to what the union had offered all along – the board totally rejected the compromise,” said Soderberg. “Not only are the board’s cuts well beyond the scope of the fact finder’s reasonable recommendation, they also exceed cuts agreed to by teachers’ associations and school boards in comparable school districts throughout Orange County.
If the CUSD board’s imposed cuts stand, new teachers at the bottom of the Capistrano salary schedule will lose more than $15,000 over the next five years. Veteran teachers near the top of the scale will take a hit of almost $30,000. Even worse, by being the only school board in Orange County to dictate permanent cuts, the CUSD board is condemning Capistrano teachers to a perpetual economic free fall. For example, a Capistrano teacher on step 10 of the salary schedule will lose more than $87,000 over a 20-year career and more than $155,000 over a career lasting 30 years.
“These cuts are absolutely devastating for me and my family,” said 14-year Capistrano teacher Carter Johnson, who teaches fifth grade at George White Elementary in
Laguna Niguel. “We have four children who range from a two-year-old to a 15-year-old daughter approaching college age. Even if my wife goes back to work as a nurse, we’ll be forced to sell our home and move away from the community we love and where I love to teach.”
“Taking on the Capistrano school board is like taking on a second job,” said CUEA bargaining team member Joy Kelly, a third grade teacher at Arroyo Vista Elementary in Rancho Santa Margarita. “What’s happening in our school district is consuming people’s lives. But in spite of the school board’s imposition and how disrespectful they’ve been to us in so many ways, my colleagues maintain their professionalism, providing quality instruction for our students on a daily basis.”
“CUEA members are dedicated professionals,” said Soderberg, “and we’re also reasonable and responsible citizens and community members. The teachers realize that some concessions are necessary during these tough economic times, but the board’s imposition goes far beyond what is reasonable, much less respectful.”
Soderberg said that not only will the district’s imposed cuts put Capistrano’s teachers dead last among their colleagues throughout Orange County now, but the cuts permanency will cripple the district’s ability to attract and retain quality educators in the future. “This will drive valuable teachers away from our district, and new teachers will look elsewhere rather than take a job where they can’t afford to live.”
“When it became obvious that the Capistrano school board did not intend to negotiate in good faith, we had to stand up for our profession and for our students,” said CUEA bargaining committee chairperson Sally White, George White Elementary fifth grade teacher and life-long Capistrano resident whose children and grandchildren have been students in the district.
“We held out hope over more than nine months of bargaining that we were working with people who would meet us with mutual respect and collaboration. But by imposing these drastic, punitive cuts when a reasonable settlement was on the table, the board made clear that this isn’t about fairness, it’s about ideology, pride and power. Their intent is not to bargain with the union, it’s to destroy the union. If my CTA colleagues around the state are not already strengthening their local association’s communications, organizing and bargaining programs, I strongly encourage them to do so. They are going to need them if the top-down, dictatorial management style we’re facing here in Capistrano spreads.”
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