Two years ago, the members of San Diego Unified School Districts Board of Education bet that, by now, a national economic rebound would have pulled California out from the abyss. They agreed to a deal with the San Diego Education Association (SDEA), the union that represents the districts teachers:
For the first two years of the new contract, teachers would get no across-the-board raises other than automatic step and column pay increases earned through time on the job for newer teachers and academic achievement for those who chose to continue their own education, and the school year would be reduced by five days, cutting teacher pay by 2.7 percent each year. In exchange, those five days would be restored for the third and fourth years, and teachers would get across-the-board raises totaling 7 percent over the final two years of the contract.
Members of the Board of Education acknowledge it was a gamble, and they lost. The pay increases are scheduled to take effect in less than 30 days, but the states budget mess has worsened, and the school district is set to head into the fiscal year that starts July 1 having cut nearly $122 million from its spending plan. To reach that number, the district has told 1,534 educators—roughly 20 percent of the districts teachers—that they will no longer have jobs next month.
Theres intense pressure on the SDEA to cave in and give up the money that was promised to its members, and the unions leaders are furious that theyre in this position. We dont blame them; employers should live up to the bargains they make.
But they had to see this coming. In 2010, there was no indication that Californias budget mess would be solved; there was only hope. Now, the unions only choices are to continue to claim that the district is hiding tens of millions of dollars between the budget mattresses somewhere—and pray that its true and district officials give in—or agree to tear up the 2010 contract and say goodbye to those raises.
The union dispatched a team of people to comb through the budget in hopes of finding that hidden money, but well be shocked if they find it. Even board member Scott Barnett, whos built his political career on the notion that governments could save lots of money if theyd just try a little harder, believes the district is tapped. Barnett told CityBeat in February that he thinks the district can be made a little bit leaner in some places, but itll take time to build in those efficiencies. He thought the district should save teachers jobs by sending out a mayday call and asking the state to take over the districts operations.
No one agreed with him, and so the boards only choice is to make good on the contract, and the only way to do that is toss more than 1,500 teachers overboard.
Its understandable that the SDEA would view the predicament as unfair. But its reality. The union has a clear choice: Spare the jobs of 1,534 teachers—and, very importantly, keep class sizes smaller—or give 7-percent raises to the roughly 5,500 teachers who remain employed.
Really, this is no choice at all. District children lost in the first two years of the current contract when five days were shaved off the school year. Theyll lose again if the union doesnt concede and class sizes are increased at all levels, including up to 50 kids per class in high schools. Fifty kids! This is not to mention the 1,534 teachers wholl lose their jobs just so the others can get raises on top of the automatic step-and-column increases (hat tip to Voice of San Diego for the story that pointed that out).
Teachers should be paid much more than theyre currently paid. But to pay them more, there has to be money available, and there just isnt. Were sorry to have to say that the teachers union must put the interests of students ahead of the interests of its members. But, sadly, because of the economy—and because Republicans in the state Legislature wouldnt allow voters to choose to extend certain state tax rates that were set to expire this year—thats where we are.
We call on the SDEA to forgo those raises, save those teachers jobs and keep class sizes as low as possible.
What do you think? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.