Sunday Bonus Post: Media Money!

I'm as surprised as they are.

I’m as surprised as they are.

I woke up this morning (Saturday, people…I actually need time to draw these things, and write) and has a text message. It was from my co-teacher, and told me to look at the LAUSD Salary Agreement. Not fully understanding why I should care, I picked up my district supplied iPad and Googled those words: LAUSD Salary Agreement.

Lo and behold, the Union (UTLA) and the district reached a tentative agreement on contract issues. They did this more or less at the same time that I was drawing the protagonist stealing an arc reactor from Tony Stark. Maybe the idea that teachers and superheroes don’t make enough money to do their jobs was in the zeitgeist at that point…I don’t know.

Central to the tentative agreement is a ten percent salary increase over the course of two years. This one is pretty hard for me to understand, because it draws from a finite pool of dollars. in order for me to get a ten percent raise…there just can’t be the same number of employees any longer. Payroll is only so large. Still…I have both massive seniority AND tenure, so it is quite literally something that will play out underneath me, and only affect me tangentially.

What are the basics of the agreement, besides the ten percent raise? Good question! Let’s look at some high points:

1. A 10 percent on-the-scale salary increase over 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, with a salary re-opener in 2016-2017, including a 4 percent raise retroactive to July 1.

I’m a fan of this, by the way, even though I don’t see where the @$#% the money is going to come from.

2. Class size caps in the contract and a re-iteration of class size averages in the contract, although details were not released.

This one I’m also a fan of, but don’t see how it will work. You see, class sizes are determined by teacher to student ratio. If you pay each teacher ten percent more…very quickly, if the size of the payroll is a constant, you need ten percent LESS teachers. And then…class size goes up by ten percent, to absorb the lost staff members.

Also…the massive lost positions at my school I was discussing…I don’t know…YESTERDAY, come from a Class Size Reduction Grant ending. All of them are in the process of ending, in fact…so the money that kept class sizes relatively small didn’t even come from the district payroll coffers directly in the first place. I honestly don’t see how points one and two can be executed together without a serious overdraft problem.

3. $13 million for targeted class size reduction in grades 8-9.

Again…see my comments on item 2. It’s the same set of concerns, but focused like a laser on two grade levels. Educationally, it’s a sound choice…that’s the time frame where the largest number of school dropouts occurs. Money isn’t help…but throwing money at the problem could buy some help, if spent responsibly on good staff.

4. A secondary counselor ratio in the contract (500-to-1) and an additional $13 million devoted to secondary counselors to achieve the ratio in 2015-2016.

I have no dog in this particular fight. I do know that this year, I haven’t considered the counseling office an asset, and we are still dealing with sweeping scheduling problems, in April, that they made in August. Having recently been told by counselors and support staff that they don’t have the time to deal with classroom issues, I think that this just might be a poor choice.

I will admit that the above comment is very much couched in the resentment and sour grapes related to one year out of sixteen, and on unfortunate situation this week. I never said that I was perfect in my assessments, True Believers.

5. Health Services Task Force to develop strategies for increasing nursing, counseling, social work, and social/emotional health services.

On this…our school nurse is no joke. She is efficient, useful, and pretty helpful. The rest of the positions listed above are good positions, and need good people in them. This year, my school has a huge number of those kinds of support staff, and my team is almost as disgruntled with them as I am. Poor communication, lack of follow through, and a “what can you do, I’ll get to it when I get to it” attitude. Just the other day I asked one of those positions for a report that I have yet to receive.

I don’t get to come in to school and not be prepared to teach twenty five kids a period English, or not have their grades ready on request. If the support staff for counseling, social work, and social emotional health are held to a lower standard…I don’t see why I need more of them. That’s just draining the coffers.

Again…I can only speak to the individuals in the positions that I see. Maybe there are fantastic super crusaders out there, that are the model that we need more of. I’m willing to say the Law of Regularity applies, and my people are just average…an average that could be used to hire more teachers, and keep class sizes down, as per point 2, and preserve my raise in point 1.

See how it all seems to come together? Seriously, a Psychiatric Social Worker costs the same as a teacher. That means you DIDN’T buy a teaching position for that money…and need to find another funding source for the teaching position. The agreement seems like a house of cards.

6. New agreements on the re-assignment of employees under investigation.

There is no detail on this subsection yet. It’s a complex topic, that I have a large number of strong, and at times conflicted feelings about. This could be it’s own post, and at some point, probably will.

7. A teacher evaluation system that will be jointly developed by 2016-17 and replace the Teacher Growth and Development Cycle, which PERB in December ruled was illegal.

I don’t mind teacher evaluations, so this is just sort of a thing. Evaluations are necessary in everything. Auto workers have quality assessments, my students get assessments all the time to see how they are doing. Why shouldn’t I?

Previously, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said, “There are no dollars in the 2014-2015 budget or layoff options to fund any additional increases.” Since that time…nothing has changed, fiscally that would move that position. He said that at the end of January. At that time District officials calculated the cost of implementing the union’s bargaining proposals over two years would be about $833 million above LA Unified’s offer despite a drop in UTLA’s salary demands. hat offer was based in hard numbers.

That’s why I’m dubious of the deal. I’ll take the raise…let’s not be silly here, True Believers. I’m just saying that in February, Cortines also said that to pay for the salary increase UTLA was demanding would require employee layoffs in “catastrophic numbers that would dwarf the impacts of the recent Recession.” It was then that the two sides declared an impasse.

Now we are here…too late for layoff notices for the next year, and a tentative deal in place that seems to require those notices. Actually, it requires the opposite…the hiring of large numbers of staff at a higher rate of pay by a district with serious financial problems.

Details of the agreement on issues such as class size reduction are not yet available….for reasons that should be pretty clear if you have read this far. I would NOT want to be the accountant that tries to work out that problem. Also unclear is how the agreement would impact contracts the district has with other unions, many of which signed deals over the last year that are less than what UTLA would gain with the tentative agreement. You see…those unions have a “me too” clause included in most of the signed agreements that allows a union the opportunity to re-open salary negotiations should the school board approve a higher raise for another union.

It is entirely possible that those clauses will be triggered, increasing costs across the board.

All of this is premature. The UTLA membership needs to vote for the tentative agreement to pass. It is possible that these issues will come up, or be resolved in some fashion, before that happens. It’s also possible that they won’t be resolved. I’m sure of one thing…

…I’m pretty sure that teachers are going to vote for a raise in pay of ten percent, and a reduction in class sizes. That’s exactly asking, “Would you like more money for doing a smaller amount of the same job that you’re doing now?” Kind of a no brainer.

My bank account has its fingers crossed.

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