Beiser Solid on Layoffs but Soft on Union’s Right to Arbitrate

— by Stephanie Marble, Clairemont AR and Candidate for SDEA Board

In the final of the five SDEA School Board accountability sessions, Kevin Beiser answered questions from roughly 25 teachers, SDEA President Bill Freeman, SDEA Vice President Lindsay Burningham, and SDEA Field Organizer Abdul Sayid. The session was relatively friendly and open (Beiser even took notes), and revealed some good news and some bad news.

To the question evidently considered most important: Will Kevin Beiser stand by the rest of the Board and vote against layoffs this year? Beiser said that he will  definitely not vote for layoffs. Please note, however, that he expects a shortfall of $84 million to be met by extraordinary income from sale of District property and from teacher retirements.

He discussed the attrition model the District will use instead, in which people who resign this year will not be replaced. He said, “We want to move people around,” and suggested that would require moving teachers to meet FTE-to-students ratios. It is unclear whether this means teachers would be moved mid-year. No one specifically asked or clarified the problem of the resultant class size increase.

Beiser also praised what he views as a new era of collaboration between the District and Bill Freeman/the SDEA Board. However, this new collaborative relationship does not appear to be influencing the District to honor the parts of our contract that they are presently refusing to allow us to take to arbitration. This includes three significant issues: Reductions in the number of nurses and counselors, the secondary 36-student class size cap, and violations of our MOUs (parts of bargained contract that aren’t in the bound contract).

When queried about why the District has refused to arbitrate these issues, Beiser responded that “Legal” stated they didn’t have to. He then shifted the topic to counselor ratios, calling that a topic for the whole Board (not just himself).  Pressed again on why the District Legal Department has refused to arbitrate, Beiser reiterated that Legal said they didn’t have to, but then stated that Legal is not in charge of the District Labor Relations Department anymore. He said there is a new person and she will want to deal with things more positively. If that’s the case, then why is the District continuing to pursue the antagonistic path initiated by Legal? Shouldn’t our new “collaborative” relationship result in the District showing more, not less, respect for our union’s efforts to enforce our contract?

I asked Beiser about our District’s high proportion of administrators. According to figures I have heard, the ratio of SDUSD’s administrative costs to total revenue is one of the highest in the state. I asked Beiser if he could verify these figures, or if he knows where we stand on this. Beiser said, “I’m not sure what ratio of administrators to total revenue is. I thought we were one of the leaner and meaner … but I don’t know.” Beiser looked as if he would consider this, leaving me wondering if he would get the answers. I urged him to get this addressed.

Meanwhile, Beiser did not mention healthcare and neither did any teachers ask about it, although it had been discussed as a needed query prior to Beiser’s arrival.  It was agreed to be critical and was to be included among questions to be asked of Beiser. We got no clarity here, which is too bad, because that is one of the most prominent issues for many SDEA members.

Nearly every School Board member (most notably Richard Barrera and Scott Barnett) has suggested that SDEA will need to make healthcare concessions, with Barrera and Barnett pushing hard for SDEA to make Kaiser the default plan, requiring members who choose an alternate plan to pay the difference. My concerns here are most purely personal since my husband has renal cell  metastasized cancer — but I know I’m not alone with these concerns. My husband’s cancer should have killed him in the first year. Instead he is doing well now, thanks to our Scripps Torrey Pines/Green Hospital doctors.

Not only would a Kaiser cap require my husband and hundreds of our teachers and our family members with severe health problems to switch doctors, but the existing Kaiser Hospital is reputed to not be able to handle an influx of 5,000-7,000 new patients and their families. Kaiser’s Zion Hospital in Mission Gorge is the only location that provides some specialist services. How many SDUSD teachers (including at least six from my school alone) live in North County and don’t want to drive 40+ miles to Kaiser Hospital in Mission Gorge? Imagine a 40+ mile post-chemo return trip.

SDEA seems satisfied with getting the School Board members on the record as opposing layoffs. That’s a fine start, but what about getting them on the record for honoring our contract, implementing our raises, and keeping their hands off our healthcare when we start bargaining next year?

That’s why I’m running for SDEA Board — to make sure our union fights to protect our wages and benefits when we go into bargaining next year!

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