It has been nearly two weeks since teachers poured into the school board meeting, asking the school district to address the compensation gap. The Vanguard spoke late last week with former DTA president Blair Howard, who currently teaches at King High, about what the options are and what the community is perhaps willing to do about it.
Mr. Howard noted that the teachers sat out the parcel tax discussion last time, which he felt was “a big tactical mistake because we weren’t able to give voice to our needs.” He said it was a hard conversation to have, and because they stayed out of it, “our perspective was let out of it, and the status quo which wasn’t acceptable and the district knew that was the one that went forward.”
He said, “One way or another it affects the DTA because either the positions are affected by the parcel tax or it’s the other things that we are able or not able to do because we’re putting money towards what the community expects – great programs and services we provide.”
Blair Howard explained it was a tough time for the teachers – they were trying to get a new contract at the same time there was a new parcel tax on the ballot. “It’s hard to do what we need to do at the same time there’s a new parcel tax measure out there that needs to be passed,” he said. “We’re exploring ways to go forward and do that.”
There are some interesting questions out there. One of the them is from a case in the city of Upland, where the courts have ruled that, if the citizens put a parcel tax measure on the ballot, it become a majority vote requirement rather than two-thirds vote requirement.
The California Supreme Court in August made the distinction between taxes imposed by government and taxes recommended by citizen groups.
“Taxation imposed by initiative is not taxation imposed by local government,” the decision states.
Blair Howard said they are not sure whether that would apply to a school parcel tax, but it is something they would be interested in exploring.
One of the questions the teachers have is whether the parcel tax “actually pays for all the extra stuff.” He said, “Because you don’t want to lock yourself into line items, the parcel tax is a little squishy. So the implementation can be a little squishy.” So the questions are “how much class size reduction?” “How much seventh period?” “How much music?”
He said there are two philosophical positions here. “One is that the parcel tax doesn’t actually pay for all of the positions,” he explained. So money that could go to all kinds of things including teacher salaries if the district prioritized it, the money that is described for all of these programs listed in the parcel tax “is greater than we actually have” and “we should have been more real about what it costs to do all this.”
Looking at it in this way, the teacher salary issue simply increases the costs of providing given programs and, if teacher salaries go up, the costs for programs rises more than anticipated in the parcel tax.
At the same time, he acknowledged, “programs are important to folks” and the parents and voters want those programs in the school district.
“The other approach is to say, we have a compensation gap. Whatever the finances are – we trust that the district is utilizing its finances effectively,” he said. “We may be able to do certain things on the margins, but absent radical changes to the program we deliver, we’re just not going to be able to increase teacher compensation to the level at which we defined as our own issue, without additional funds from the community.”
He noted that we don’t anticipate changes to state funding or changes to the CFF.
The question is how does a district, that gets to average funding with the parcel tax, have below average compensation.
“What you’re talking about is that you have more teachers, deliver more programs. When you look at the budget from the macro-level that CTA trains people to look at, it looks like all of our numbers are healthy,” Blair Howard explained. “We spend 40 percent of the budget on certificated salaries and the admin as a total budget is within an expected range. From the big level, it looks right.”
The problem is “we get to that 40 percent because we have more people for the district our size.” He pointed out that “even when you look at class size, we’re not ahead. Because it’s not that we have more people to do the same amount of work, it’s that we have more people to do more work. Because we’re providing seven periods. That means we provide all these music classes.
“That’s how we end up with average funding, above average services, below average pay,” he said. “If we just have average services, we can get to average pay.”
What drives the success of this district is that the community cares about education and is willing to pay for that level of education. But clearly there are tough choices now that the community is going to have to make.
At some point there needs to be an assessment about the programs that the district provides and how to pay for those programs.
But there are problems with trying to cut back on programs, as Blair Howard pointed out – “you saw what happened when they just decided to trim some German. So if you’re going to have a long public comment just to try to save German…”
Blair Howard explained that the way the district usually thinks about funding is in terms of percentages. Last week, we calculated that ending the senior exemption would generate about $800,000 in additional money for the school district.
Mr. Howard explained that $800,000 would generate about a two percent increase just for the teachers, but he said “we also have classified folks. The general assumption or at least trend in the past is that if you adjust the teachers, you adjust CSEA (the classified employees or support staff).”
So when you look at what a one percent raise costs, you look at it in terms of the whole district, not just the teachers. Mr. Howard thinks a one percent raise is about $450,000 for the whole district. So ending the senior exemption may gain the district a two percent pay increase across the board.
“Which gets you somewhere but it’s not going (close the gap),” he said. “And the gap, absent anything else, is probably going to keep on growing.”
Going from $620 to $760 in the parcel tax, however, generates about $2.5 million in additional funding which looks more like a six percent across the board increase.
But Blair Howard said CTA is also looking at tax fairness. “The parcel tax is still at the end of the day a regressive tax,” he said. He said that “you can run it by square-footage. It still would be not based on your income, but if you live in a bigger house, you would likely have a bigger income.”
The bottom line for Blair Howard is there needs to be “just a plan. Some way to move forward.
“The plan,” he said. “is we’ll negotiate. “
He pointed out, “We tried this very cooperative approach to negotiations, it didn’t really lead to much of anything. We got the salary adjustment last year. That was negotiated the previous year. The last two negotiations we haven’t actually come out of these negotiations with anything.”
The problem with negotiations is “you can’t promise anything.” “It’s easy for both sides to say, we’ll see you in negotiations. But that’s part of the public pressure. It sounded like part of the superintendent’s response to the team solutions email is to give him some solutions. But those solutions depend on the people that have the power between the board and the administration to pursue and come up with a plan for the solutions.”
The pressure is on now because the teacher’s contract expired in June and right now they are operating without a contract – and so right now they have the opportunity to put some pressure on the school district to change its approach.
—David M. Greenwald reporting