Planning For Triggers Cannot Wait Until the Axe Falls

chalkboardCOMMENTARY: Teachers Need to Take the Concessions That Others Have Already Taken – Is there a misperception about the need for cuts and concessions in the community?  A letter to the editor of the Davis Enterprise seems to suggest as much.

Karen Newton of Davis writes: “Why is the Davis school district demanding concessions from its teachers and support personnel? Currently, there is enough in the budget to pay these educators.”

She adds, “If Proposition 30 were to fail, then it would make sense to sit down with school employees to see where to go from there. But please, no concessions before the fact.”

“School employees are working harder. Class sizes are larger, jobs have been eliminated and everyone is making do with less. It is demoralizing in the extreme to be hit with these conditions and to face less pay,” she concludes.

There is no doubt that the last paragraph is true.  It is also true that this is really the last resort.

But the first paragraph is very concerning.  Currently there is enough in the budget to pay these educators, but the cuts and contingencies are not being planned for now.  They are being planned in case Measure E fails and/ or Proposition 30 were to fail.

The key is Proposition 30.  If Proposition 30 passes, there will be no need for cuts in January.  However, if it fails, even if Measure E passes, the district will need to cut several million from the budget for January.  The simplest way to do that, which is also unfortunate, is to reduce the teaching year by as much as ten days.

However, in order to do that, teachers must agree to take the furlough days.  Is that a good thing?  Is that ideal?  Absolutely not, and not just from the perspective of teachers who would be forced to take pay cuts on top of years of their salaries not keeping pace with inflation.

On the other hand, Davis teachers have largely been able to avoid pay cuts.  Unlike their counterparts at the university, the county, the city, and state government, Davis teachers have largely avoided taking furlough days other than one year.

The reason for that has been the generosity of this community.  This community in both 2008 and 2011 agreed to pay more in parcel taxes, despite the fact that many have themselves been furloughed and taken pay cuts.

Last March, the taxpayers overwhelmingly voted to extend Measures Q and W, providing the district with $6.5 million of the $10 million shortfall they would have been facing.  However, faced with more than 50 layoffs, the teachers refused to accept concessions.  The result is that the community who has time and time again stepped up, will now have their children in larger classes.

Accepting concessions – as both the School Employees Association and administrators have done – will allow the district to be able to continue to function at its current level even if Proposition 30 fails.

However, these would be contingent concessions.  The key word is contingencies – that means that if Proposition 30 passes, the agreed-to cuts would never be implemented.

So yes, there is enough in the budget to pay these educators, RIGHT NOW.

But Ms. Newtown suggests that if Proposition were to fail “it would make sense to sit down with school employees to see where to go from there.”

She urges no concessions before the fact.

Never does she seem to acknowledge that these would be contingent concessions, but more importantly, her position makes no sense.

The school district would have a narrow window from November 7, the day after the election, to January 2 to find the money to keep the district operational should Proposition 30 fail (we need to remember that, while a passage of Measure E would fund the trigger cuts, the collection of that money would not take place until July 2013, which means the district has to fill a six-month gap).

It is not a really two months to get the cuts done.  You have Thanksgiving and Christmas taking two to three weeks out of that two-month time period.

Why would you wait when you can get the teachers to accept conditional cuts now, and only implement them when necessary?

The position does not make sense and the district – unfortunate as it is – is doing the responsible thing by addressing the very distinct likelihood of necessary cuts.

Unfortunately, the teachers are refusing to play ball at this point.

The community has stepped up time and time again and I fully expect them to do so again this November.

In the past, many have asked the Vanguard why it has been so tough in terms of city employees but so willing to allow the school district to continue to meet budget shortfalls through revenue enhancement rather than cuts.

We have two primary reasons for this view.  First, the salaries for teachers are not nearly as out of line as they are for city employees.  The benefits received, in fact, pale in comparison.

Second, in terms of priorities, education has always been viewed as a crucial investment in the future and teachers sit on that front line.

It seems at least some teachers in this district do not believe they play by the same rules as all other government employees.  That is most unfortunate and we believe a view not shared across the board.

There is a divide within the DTA over how to approach this, however, for the most part, the faction that is in control is the one refusing to make the deals.

In the end, the possibility of impasse is most unsettling.  The district has to make tough decisions, we do not believe the district can continue to lay off 50 teachers at a time and continue to provide the high level of quality education, and so we may well come to a confrontation that most would like to avoid.

The most unfortunate part of it is that teachers are really only hurting themselves.  The community values education like few others, and they have stepped up time and time again.  If this persists, that may undermine the trust that the community has in the district and its teachers, and that may undermine support for future parcel taxes – if not this one.

We believe that this letter is completely inaccurate and misleading and that the only responsible thing for the district to do – the only think it can do other than pound and pray – is to plan for the worst case scenario.  We need the teachers to step up if they want to retain the greatness of our schools.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Bill Storm

    You’ve made some important clarifications in this article. As Davis teachers, we wish to offer one of our own.

    Your article implies that the teachers are monolithic in their opinion re: concessions and contingency language, though you do qualify this some at the end of your article. Those of us with different opinions have tried to work with DTA leadership to encourage not only civil discourse with district leadership but also to demonstrate a connection to the community that respects the stark reality of the condition of the state budget. We continue to try, but have been frustrated by the combative and seemingly irrational rhetoric of those controlling the messaging in DTA.

    We would appreciate your attribution of the current position of DTA leadership to DTA leadership, and not paint the entire membership with the same brush. Teachers cannot vote on every statement made by leadership and every position taken in negotiation, and many of us are fearful that the current quality of discourse will further undermine our connection to this community we serve and the students we care about.

    Yes, we teachers need community support to do our work and support our families, but we also need to recognize the sacrifices our neighbors in the community have made to keep Davis public education healthy. If teachers wish to be party to maintaining quality education in Davis (including sustaining the professionals who provide it) we need to respond meaningfully when circumstances demand thoughtful discourse and appropriate accommodation to budgetary circumstances [i]clearly[/i] beyond the district’s control.

    Ingrid Salim
    Bill Storm

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Bill and Ingrid:

    “We would appreciate your attribution of the current position of DTA leadership to DTA leadership, and not paint the entire membership with the same brush. “

    I appreciate you bringing this point up. I have tremendous respect for both of you and as you know, I am not against teachers. I will be even more explicit on this point next time and I appreciate your decision to weigh in on this crucial issue.

  3. Mr.Toad

    “The most unfortunate part of it is that teachers are really only hurting themselves.”

    Oh please! Stop with your patronizing of the teachers. You think the teachers don’t know what is at stake and need you to lay it out for them? You think they don’t know that their classes have gone from twenty to thirty over the last few years or that the young person in the classroom next door isn’t there any more? For someone who claims to support teachers you sure don’t seem to understand that they can make decisions for themselves.

    You seem to be forgetting that the teachers might be barely making it now. You sound like Jose Granda when you are suggesting pay cuts for teachers. Of course in his case he makes more than they do, something that is particularly disgusting, telling people who make less than you they should take a pay cut.

    While you focus on teacher pay you miss the big picture as to what happens if they close the schools early. Let me explain it to you. The parents who can afford tutors are already organizing contingencies. If the schools close early they will hire people to teach small groups in what amounts to de-facto privatization of the schools. Davis has done as much as any community in California to keep the public schools able to provide a quality education for all kids while the state has de-funded the schools through its tough on crime no new taxes mantra that has shifted our resources towards incarceration and away from education.

    Its bad enough that teachers are being expected to overcome every problem children bring to school. Poverty, learning disabilities, broken homes, hunger, emotional or psychological trauma and language barriers are among some of the bigger challenges they face daily. Now you want them to solve the structural deficit that the state has created for itself. How rude!

  4. David M. Greenwald

    “Now you want them to solve the structural deficit that the state has created for itself. How rude!”

    Not solve, do their part. That’s all I ask.

  5. Davis Teacher

    I don’t understand the premise of this commentary. As reported in the Enterprise, teachers HAVE offered concessions: five furlough days. Teachers are continuing to still talk to district officials…in fact, the district tried to seek “impasse” but the state turned it down because good faith negotiations are still continuing.

  6. Sherman

    The majority of Davis voters cast their ballots in favor of school parcel taxes to ensure educational programs are not eliminated due the inadequacy of State funding. However, the passage of school parcel taxes is not a quid pro quo for teachers to accept concessions. There is no doubt that the Davis community values education, but there is a disconnect when it comes to those doing the educating – the teachers. If the community truly supports education, then we should be supporting the teachers in their quest to achieve greater dignity for their profession. The phrase, “To whom much is given, much is expected” is not apropos to the teacher’s plight, but instead what parents’ expectations should be of their children. The parcel tax money is not a favor to the teachers – it’s an investment in children.

  7. medwoman

    Growth Issue

    this is probably the most important issue facing us today and no comments… {sigh}”

    I do not believe that the lack of comments reflects a lack of caring about this issue. I do sense that there is a general feeling of helplessness in the face of what many anticipated was going to be a problem of much shorter duration. I believe that what our children who are dependent upon public education are facing is a perfect storm with components including:
    1) an unwillingness to pay for services expected ( the no taxes under any circumstances crowd)
    2) a misguided notion that as far as schools are concerned, privatization will cure all
    3) a societally very short sighted preference for the far “sexier” tough on crime, lock em up and through away the key philosophy that has led to
    money that could be spent on education, crime prevention, drug rehab programs and mental health being poured into prisons and now with
    realignment , jails. When was the last time we heard an outcry about the high cost of correctional officers and a public outcry for them
    “doing their fair share”?
    4) a general distrust of those identified as “public workers” as somehow greedier or less worthy than those working in the private sector, an
    interesting conception given that the majority of us were educated by public teachers. This belief seems to have gained traction with the “don’t
    Tax me group”

    I remain somewhat optimistic since I believe that the majority of Davis voters perceive the truth as put quite succinctly by Sherman :
    ” The parcel tax money is not a favor to the teachers – it’s an investment in children.”

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