On Tuesday Dec. 18, SDEA held an accountability session with SDUSD School Board President John Lee Evans, whom SDEA just endorsed and successfully got reelected, at UC High School. Evans brought Superintendent Bill Kowba with him. Eight SDEA members and two SDEA staff participated. Our purpose was to discuss how to stabilize our district, now that Prop. 30, Prop. Z and last summer’s new contract have passed. Our focus points included:
- Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) committed by the District, including:
- The District’s disregard for the hard cap of 36 students per class in secondary classrooms.
- The District’s refusal to participate in grievances over nursing and counselor ratios.
- Charging new teachers $2,400 per year for the BTSA program.
- No layoffs this spring.
- Restoration of our pay.
This was my first experience with an accountability session and I didn’t know what to expect. SDEA Board member Iris Anderson led the session and did a good job of keeping the conversation moving and focused. After our introductions, Evans started off by saying that he was just there to listen, and that he would not be making any promises. I thought this was interesting, because I thought the point of an accountability session was to get the participant to actually state their position on the issues — we were there to hold their feet to the fire, I thought — to hold them “accountable.” But apparently he was just there to listen. He seemed genuine, and took notes on what people were saying.
We started with the issue of nursing, and discussed how understaffed schools are as far as nurses and counselors are concerned. We all shared how this understaffing has affected our schools and our students. John Lee Evans and Bill Kowba listened.
Next we went on to discuss the hard cap of 36 students in secondary schools. One SDEA member pointed out the cold hard numbers — even at a hard cap of 36, she would still have 180 students total, each day, and would be responsible for teaching these students high level mathematics as well as be responsible for responding to roughly 360 parents. Anything more than that is beyond ridiculous and somewhat impossible. John Lee Evans and Bill Kowba listened.
We then moved on to discuss the illegal charging of first-year teachers for BTSA. It is unconscionable to require first-year teachers who have just completed one to two years of a credential program and, in many cases, four years of university, to take MORE classes while trying to get through their first year of teaching AND be required to shell out thousands of dollars to pay for it. And to add insult to injury, one member pointed out, the Board just approved the entry of Teach for America (TFA) into our district (read more HERE). These “teachers” not only would not need a credential to teach our neediest students, but they would also be exempt from BTSA until they actually got a credential later in their teaching career — should they choose to become a teacher after sampling the profession at the expense of our students. John Lee Evans and Bill Kowba listened.
Moving on, we discussed the importance of the District sticking to the agreed terms of the TA. Those who voted yes (don’t look at me) voted for a deferral of our pay restorations, lower class sizes, and the recalling of pink slips. The pay restorations were linked to Prop 30, which passed. So we are now at the point where we are waiting for the District to fulfill its commitment. I’m not holding my breath. John Lee Evans and Bill Kowba listened.
After all of this discussion and intent listening by Kowba and Evans, it was their turn.
For at least 20 minutes Evans and Kowba went on about the budget numbers, Sacramento, and the bureaucracy that they face at the state level. They promised nothing, and seemed intent on passing the buck to absent legislators. We get it. The budget isn’t out yet. We have to wait for January and then for the May revise. But with the passage of Prop. 30, we know money is coming. Other districts are already starting to put the money back where it belongs in order to stabilize their districts. There is no reason for our School Board not to do the same.
Nervous, I only spoke a few times, and for the majority of the meeting I watched and listened. But before the meeting wrapped up, I felt I had to speak for the roughly 1,500 SDEA members who voted no on the TA. Most of the members present were those who voted yes on the TA, and they seemed to respect and trust these men. But I don’t. I have watched too many of my friends suffer each spring when they get pink slipped. I have watched while the District has made no sacrifices on their end. So I told them, “I voted no on the TA. And I did it because I don’t trust you, and I don’t believe that the TA will be upheld. Please, make me wrong. Please. I’m so tired of this. I would LOVE to trust the District, I really would. Prove me wrong.” To my surprise my remarks were welcomed by the other SDEA members. One member commented that he agreed, and said that if the TA isn’t upheld, there is a big “I told you so” coming, and it will be loud. This is true, and I can guarantee the roar won’t just be from Breakfast Clubbers.
Hopefully our union can begin to heal from the surprise June opening of our contract and the way the summer vote was handled by talking to one another and respecting each other’s voices. We are all SDEA members, even if we have differing opinions. Unfortunately, I don’t see the spring of 2013 as an easy one. The District could very well ignore our ULPs, and become senile when it comes to the terms of our new contract. I don’t say this out of hope that we are right. I say this because I HOPE we are wrong. I truly do not want to have to tell my friends who are pink slipped each spring, “I told you so.”
At the same time as tonight’s meeting with Evans, there was an accountability session with new SDEA-endorsed School Board member Marne Foster (article forthcoming). There are accountability sessions still coming up with Board members Scott Barnett, Richard Barrera and Kevin Beiser in January. If you haven’t been to one of these, I definitely suggest you attend. If we have any hope of getting the Board to not issue layoffs and honor the Prop. 30 raises in our new contract, it is by showing up and making them listen to us.
— by Emily Neidhart, Garfield AR