— by Megan Sussman, Sessions AR
On Thursday, Jan. 10, I was one of a dozen or so SDEA members who participated in SDEA’s accountability session with Scott Barnett. While the teachers there did a good job making Barnett understand how disappointed we are with many of his decisions as an SDEA Board member, he refused to promise not to vote for layoffs, and his response on the District’s many Unfair Labor Practices (ULP’s) against SDEA was not good either. Barnett is now the second Board member to refuse SDEA’s request to vote against layoffs in March (the first was John Lee Evans — read more HERE). The Board needs only three votes to authorize layoffs.
I had volunteered to host the meeting in my classroom, and I started the meeting by saying that it is time to stabilize our schools. This means resolving Unfair Labor Practices, carrying out the will of the voters who supported Prop. 30 by ending cuts to classrooms and educators, and respecting our contract. I stated that the voters who supported Prop. 30 were under the impression that the money was going to the classrooms where it would directly benefit the kids. I also mentioned that teachers are always the ones being asked to sacrifice. I reminded Barnett that he and the Board voted just last week to spend $600,000 on five District Human Resources positions, while they are still contemplating laying off teachers again this spring. These messages were echoed by other teachers who spoke during the meeting-we had divided up the various ULP’s among us to ask Barnett about.
Here was Barnett’s response about the District budget:
- He was the only member who voted not to issue layoffs during the last two years. (This is true — so why is he finally considering voting for layoffs now, when the District budget is better than it has been in years?)
- We’re faced with budget losses and losses in state revenue. (Fascinating statement in light of the fact that Prop 30 passed and the Governor just announced $2.7 billion to be spent on education).
- The District is in an $80 million hole. The new Prop. 30 monies will change this to a $50 million hole. But, nevertheless, we will still be in a hole. (What about the $70 million the SDEA budget scrub found last year? The District didn’t use it to avoid last year’s layoffs, so they can certainly use it this year.)
- He estimated that next year the District will pay an additional $32 million in salaries (due to step and column increases) and benefits. He attempted to characterize these step and column increases as “raises” and received angry responses from the teachers.
- This year there was “one time revenue” from property sales that will not be there next year.
- He said he is looking for other ways to save money, for example through school closures, reducing transportation costs by not providing free bussing, and changing our healthcare coverage.
- He stated that 57 cents of every dollar from Prop. 30 was committed to negotiated raises for administrators and educators. This excludes step and column increases. (This was one of the few pieces of good news — according to Barnett, the District plans to actually honor the raises in our contract this time. Unless they once again layoff teachers unnecessarily to get us to give them up again…)
- He engaged in a lengthy conversation about our healthcare. He said that he wants to conduct a study to see if we can get a better rate than VEBA is offering, and that the study would cost $50,000. He said that “your union” opposed conducting such a study, and was corrected that all of the teachers in the room, not just Bill Freeman, are the union. He said that the other districts who changed providers got short changed because they were smaller districts and we’re the big fish in the pond.
- In response to the new Human Resources positions: He supports this because Human Resources has been dysfunctional for years and the additions are necessary in order to serve the needs of the employees. (Many of the teachers there pointed out that our classrooms have become dysfunctional due to cuts too!)
- He said that he never makes a promise he can’t keep and we have been “screwed” in the past where promises were made but not kept, implying that other Board members shoulder the burden for our current situation, not him.
- He said changes need to be made at the District in middle management because there are incompetent principals and area superintendents.
Here were Barnett’s responses to the ULP’s:
- Class size cap of 36 students at secondary: He agreed that they have a contractual obligation here. He won’t commit to anything until he sees we have the funding for it, but agreed that the District needs to attempt to meet it.
- Nurse and counseling staff ratios: He proposed not to cut any more nurses and counselors and keep ratios as they are now (another piece of good news here).
- New fees for BTSA: He said he had no knowledge of the BTSA fees, and needs to investigate if it’s a state requirement.
- Charging fees for retirees’ healthcare: He claims the contract legally allows this as long as fees cover costs and are not for profit. (So basically, the law allows us to screw people who served our District for 30 years and then retired onto a fixed income, so we’re going to.)
In summary, Barnett stated he believes there are many levels of dysfunction in the District and that he is trying to make changes. We summed up by asking for a commitment from him to properly implement Prop. 30 by not issuing layoffs and by honoring salary restorations. While he agreed to the second demand, again, he would not agree to the first. That makes the last two accountability sessions with Richard Barrera and Kevin Beiser even more important. We’ll let you know once we know when and where they are.