—By Emily Neidhart, Garfield AR and CTA State Council candidate
At the February 20 Rep. Council, I made a motion for SDEA to support our grassroots petition to demand that Stan Dobbs be removed from his position as CFO from our District, and that he publicly apologize for his misstatements about teachers. Though it seemed a bit harsh to already ask for an employee to be removed from a recently hired position, many educators stood with me. After a ridiculous interview given to the Voice of San Diego in which Dobbs scoffed at educators for having salaries that don’t exist, family healthcare coverage, and for demanding smaller class sizes, many educators in our District felt hurt and betrayed during a time when our District and our union are supposed to be “working together.”
In an act of solidarity, Rep. Council passed my motion unanimously after I accepted a friendly amendment to just demand an apology (for now). SDEA then emailed our petition link out to all members, and nearly 400 educators have signed so far. In addition to signing, many members also wrote extensive comments, voicing their frustration and opinion with what happened. In this time of attacks on public education and unions, it really hurt the people who day in and day out expertly work with students. Read what people had to say here.
On March 6, 2013 Dobbs did publically apologize via a letter sent to all SDUSD employees. In his letter, he apologizes for only apologizing to President Bill Freeman and not all SDEA employees. However, he still clings to his version of the story that the article was a result of “misinformation” even though Will Carless said in a KPBS interview that Dobbs’ quotes were transcribed from a recorded interview. He also writes that he put “interview controls” in place for the future. Both of these statements clearly show that Dobbs believes he was not at fault, though he is supposedly taking responsibility. Dobbs writes:
We are happy that Dobbs did respond to our demands to publically apologize, but his continued manner of denial is concerning. As we move forward we will have to continue to monitor and hold the District accountable for what it says, who they hire, and the promises they make to the educators and students of this District.
Guest Commentary: A Letter to Dobbs
—By Pat Thomas, La Jolla HS AR
Prior to Dobbs’ apology, La Jolla HS AR Pat Thomas wrote a letter to Dobbs issuing a point-by-point debunking of his misstatements. She shared it with us to share on the blog. Regardless of Dobbs’ apology, the statements he made have had a lasting impact on the public’s perception of teacher pay and benefits. His apology is a good first step, but as outlined below, Dobbs has a long way to go to begin to repair the damage he has done.
Dear Mr. Dobbs,
As a teacher in the SDUSD, I found the interview you gave to Voice of San Diego on 1 February, 2013, is disturbing on many levels. I would like to address them all.
Telling lies in public on the record about the organization for which you work is a tactic which may have worked well for you in a previous organization, but I think that you have discovered that this strategy does not serve you now that you work for SDUSD.
Our Health Care
Our country’s health care system is a national political issue, not the responsibility of the teachers or other employees of SDUSD. We all know that, over the years, companies in the for-profit sector of the economy have reduced virtually all workers’, but not senior management, healthcare benefits. SDUSD is a school district, not a profit-making corporation. Due to the lack of earnings upside, employees in the not-for-profit sector of the economy generally earn less that employees in the for-profit sector. One of the ways which government entities at ALL (local, state, and federal) levels have traditionally offset salary disparity is with somewhat better benefits.
The fact that we, SDEA, have stood together over the years as the standards of the provision of health insurance in our nation have changed in ways which have been detrimental to most employees, should be an example for other working people to follow! It is NOT “just ridiculous.”! It is an issue which is very important to the members of SDEA, and for which we have diligently bargained. It is our right to do this, and we take this right, and its attendant obligations, very seriously.
In addition, recall what we do every day for a living. We work with children – from 26 all day in the early elementary grades to 180 (or more!) each day at the high school level. These children come from all backgrounds; some have access to healthcare, many do not. In addition, the children come from all over the world. A child may arrive in this country from a very far away place, with very different illnesses and bacteria, on a Friday, and is sitting in my class on Monday morning. We are literally on the front lines of public health. My job requires that I have healthcare coverage.
The healthcare insurance options available to members of SDUSD teachers are adequate. They most certainly are not “Cadillac” or “gold-plated.” And I do pay for my healthcare insurance by the fact that my salary would otherwise be larger than it is!
Which brings us to the most egregious statement in your interview…
Our salary schedules are negotiated by the Board of SDUSD and SDEA. The numbers are freely-available public information. Before you make such a huge error on the record, perhaps you should have looked at this information more closely.
For the average teacher, on the average contract, given the average academic year, the LARGEST number you see is (far) less than $92,000! Given this, how could the average teacher salary be $92,000?
In any event, we are NOT the average workforce.
- EVERY SINGLE ONE of us has a four year college degree.
- The VAST MAJORITY of us have at least one additional year of college.
- Many of us have more than this five years of college. We have Masters Degrees, and more – we are Ph.Ds, MBAs, PsyDs, CPAs, PTs, etc.
- Many of us have very specialized training for very demanding work – we work with deaf students, autistic students, very ill students in the hospital, students with criminal records and probation officers, students who have babies and young children of their own, homeless students, etc.
- Some of us are Nurses, Psychiatrists, or SLPs (speech-language therapists).
- We can keep 26 5-year-olds, or 180 14- and 15-year-olds per day, on task, hour after hour, day after day!
Why compare us to the “average” workforce? We are NOT the average workforce!
We work with CHILDREN.
In your naval career, Mr. Dobbs, I believe you worked mostly with “things,” such as parts, weapons, “widgets,” fuel, or ships, and your goal was to move these “things” efficiently and effectively through a system so that they moved from where they were to where they needed to be.
Mr. Dobbs, our “things” are our CHILDREN. They are alive; they are animate; they have souls.
And they are not even adults. They are protean; each one is changing each day. EACH ONE has a story, or many stories, and the story, the context, changes each day.
Not only does each one change each day, unlike “widgets,” they are NOT interchangeable. Each is unique and different from all others.
Consider it like this:
- If a batch of “widgets” came to you in the Navy which did not meet standards which were set forth in the contract with the widget provider, you could send all the widgets back to the manufacturer, without payment. You probably included a sharply-worded letter which said something to the effect of, “The Navy is not accepting this substandard product. The Navy is not paying you for it. The Navy is not happy with your Quality Control. You know what you need to do in order to comply with our Contract.” Mr. Dobbs, when a student walks into my classroom who does not comply with the educational standards set by the State of California, I do not have the ability to “send him back.” Quite the opposite! I am expected to personalize educational and curricular materials for each student who is deficient in academic skills. When I have 180 students/day, this is an ENORMOUS task.
- In your capacity as an Officer in the US Armed Forces, you had many tools at your disposal to encourage your “employees” to do their work to the best of their abilities. I believe “take away their birthday” is the phrase which is used. Mr. Dobbs, I have no such leverage. When a student fails to do the work required to master the material and earn a good grade for the course, I cannot “fire” him. Quite the opposite! In general, I am dragged into hours of meetings with unhappy parents and vice principals to explain why my chapter tests are so hard.
My point is this – look in the upper left-hand corner of your next paycheck. You will see SDUSD. You now work for a Unified School District, not the Navy. The “stuff” you are now trying to move efficiently and effectively through the system is not widgets. They are our CHILDREN. At SDEA, we know this and live it every day. We would like you to change the mindset indicated in the VOSD interview to reflect this fact.
The “Step” of the “Step-Column” Pay Scale:
Perhaps in your previous employment, on-the-job experience was not much of a factor in determining an employee’s efficiency and/or effectiveness. In our profession, however, classroom experience DOES make a difference. The “Steps” reflect this. If you believe that only a young person right out of college has the passion to create and support an excellent learning environment in his/her classroom, I have two suggestions for you:
- Randomly select six teachers who are in their third year or less of teaching full-time, two from elementary, two from middle/junior high school, and two at the high school level. Randomly select six teachers who have at least twelve years’ experience teaching full-time, and who have been teaching their grade level/subject matter for at least three years, again two from elementary, two from middle/junior high school, and two at the high school level. Unannounced, visit each classroom for a minimum of twenty minutes, preferably longer. Your point of view of the value of experience and maturity for a public school teacher may change.
- If, after conducting this experiment, you still believe that young adults just out of college bring as much to the education table as more seasoned professionals, recall that you are free to work for Teach For America.
The members of SDEA know that we are going to work with you on many issues over the next several years. Please believe me when I say that we would much rather have our professional relationship be collegial and positive, rather than confrontative and combative.
As the VOSD interview, however, was our first experience with you, you have made it much harder for yourself to earn our trust and respect.
In the effort to bridge gaps in our understanding, I extend to you the invitation to visit an SDEA meeting soon to discuss these important issues with us.
Patricia Buckley Thomas, CPA
Math Teacher and SDEA AR, La Jolla High School