As is often the case during contract negotiations there are a number of statements issued, conversations held and, unfortunately, a lot of misstatements and hyperbole. Below we address some of the points we've read in recent weeks:
ESD isn't bargaining "fairly" and not prepared to offer a "fair" contract.
In fact the District has been entirely fair during the process as in previous bargaining cycles and, as in previous years, is confident that the contract ultimately agreed to will be absolutely fair to all parties. In recent years teachers have received 12.25% in salary increases and maintained among the best benefits in the entire region. Our teachers earn on average, $95,035 per year, the 5th highest of 32 districts in Santa Clara County and among the highest rates of teacher pay in the entire country (ESD average teacher pay is considerably higher than the mean-average in even the states with the highest-mean teacher pay, like Alaska and New York) - and that's with California ranking 46th in the country for per-pupil funding! While the District, like all school districts in the area, is facing a severe enrollment crisis and, in turn, major financial challenges, our top priority is to ensure the world class education our students receive isn't compromised. Accordingly we have been looking for places to see savings, but we don't anticipate cuts that would impact teachers' salaries. Even in challenging times we have made it a priority to always be fair with our teachers, and this will be no exception. We want to arrive at a fair resolution to this process but it takes two sides to achieve that resolution. On June 7 the District and ETA met in pre-fact-finding negotiations. The District was hopeful that an agreement could be reached, and began the day engaged in meaningful bargaining, but was extremely disappointed when negotiations abruptly and unexpectedly ended in the early afternoon. The next step in the negotiations process is fact-finding. We are committed to bargain openly and fairly in the interests of all involved - our teachers, our students and our community - and this will remain our priority for as long as it takes.
If we just cut administration costs, we can solve the financial challenges.
In fact ESD has among the leanest and lowest cost administrations in the entire county (32 districts), accounting for just 4% of the District budget. While we are near the top of the list for teachers salaries and benefits we are conversely near the bottom in administrative costs. Meanwhile we have seen management cuts consistently over the years and never restored those cuts, instead, asking administrators to do more with less. And for all that, knowing we need to see further savings, we are cutting even more management positions including a to-be-determined cabinet level position. We are continuing to share the burden while making do with the smallest management team around. To cut even further at this level would begin to severely compromise the work of the District. When you see a salary number shared, it's worth checking for yourself to see if it's a valid number. If one is to make an apples-to-apples comparison they need to fairly apply the same standard. If one cites an administrative salary, they should be expected to cite if it's salary or salary plus benefits, or "salary plus carefully chosen benefits to try and make a point." We've seen salary numbers shared - particularly by one social-media-active teacher, that are exaggerated for effect - and that simply don't add up. Always check your facts first.
Are teachers striking?
No, while there have been pickets, protests and marches, and while teachers are "working to contract" they are not, in fact, on strike.
But I've seen "On Strike" on flyers and signs...?
One of the more unfortunate developments in this process has been the language that ETA has chosen to use as they attempt to gain supporters. Look closely and you will see "On Strike," followed by, in small letters "not yet", or "Teacher's Strike!" followed by, "Is this how you want to start the 18/19 school year?" We are confident that both sides can work through the negotiations process and come to an agreement that is fair to all. A strike would only hurt the kids of this community. But in the meantime we owe it to our families and the community in general to be honest about where things currently stand. Negotiations are on going, we may be headed to fact finding as the next stage of the process and we are committed to work until we arrive at a fair agreement. If, however, we see the unfortunate outcome of a strike action, the District will ensure classes continue uninterrupted and that our kids' education isn't hurt by any potential strike-related activities.
Strikes in other parts of the country, like Oklahoma and West Virginia, were successful in teachers getting substantial pay raises. Are we going to see something like that here?
These examples represent a textbook "apples and oranges" situation. In some states, like those mentioned above, teachers' compensation rates are determined directly by state governments and in each of these cases teachers have been criminally underpaid for many, many years. Their struggle for fairer compensation is one that many across the country celebrated to right a long-standing wrong. As mentioned earlier in this FAQ, our teachers are among the most generously compensated educators in the entire country, a world removed from the situation facing teachers in these other states. While we are in disagreement over certain issues that go to the heart of ensuring our District remains financially viable in the interests of our students and families, the process in ESD has very little in common with what we've seen in other states, so much so that it diminishes the struggle and ultimate accomplishments achieved by those teachers to try to compare the situations.
The District is out to create untenably larger class sizes for lower grades.
Class sizes need to be negotiated at the bargaining table and are currently under discussion. There has been no agreement or conclusion on what class sizes will be in the future, but it's important to note that in times of financial limitations, choices sometimes need to be made. We have consciously chosen to provide teacher compensation at a high level (as noted above, higher than nearly every other district in the region); with the limits we're facing we are confronted with a choice between emphasizing that level of teacher pay and class sizes. We have thus far chosen to lean toward the former. Of course smaller classes are always preferred wherever possible and we will always strive to keep classes manageable, but even if the sizes were increased slightly we would maintain a level in the middle of the pack as compared to other districts; slightly higher than some, slightly lower than others (such as San Jose Unified).
The District is proposing to "cut" teachers salaries by $4000.
The District is in fact not proposing any cuts to salaries. Some have suggested that ever growing health care costs could result in ESD employees having to pay that increased amount out of their salaries. But with a new alternate health plan (JPA, or Joint Powers Authorities), recently approved by ETA members (April 25) and the District Board of Trustees (April 27), no such increase in health care costs for employees will result.
The District has sent "inflammatory" or "one sided" information to the community.
First off, we encourage anyone reading to read the update sent to the community and judge for themselves if anything in it is even remotely "inflammatory." In fact, the District responded to many calls from the community for an update on negotiations and that's what we provided. Context setting and providing information on the process to date with zero invective is what you will find in any District correspondence. We encourage members of the community to read information from both sides of the negotiation process and decide for themselves where they stand. To express angst or even anger because information is shared that may come from a different perspective than your own is an unusual response to an open, transparent dialogue.
"Spamming" the District is an effective way to make your point.We encourage questions, feedback and dialogue at every opportunity. If anyone has a question, a concern or a thought we want to hear it. Superintendent Gomez and other members of cabinet have invited those with questions or concerns to meet in person and many productive conversations have resulted. We are prepared to – delighted to, in fact – meet with or chat with anyone about the process or related issues. However we recently learned of an effort to "spam" or disrupt District systems with a stock template letter to be sent by students, shared under the header "Budget cuts- Let's spam the district's mail!!!" suggesting participants have "drafted and completed a spam message to spread and send directly to the school district." Please know that reaching out with questions or concerns will always be effective, will always be read and shared among administration. "Spam" won't be read or considered. While we have received some of these messages (some forgetting to remove the template "placeholder" text), it is a remarkably ineffective way to reach out. If you want to reach out, send a note, pick up the phone or ask for an in person meeting and we will absolutely connect.
The District is making cuts that are closest to students.
Cuts are never easy. That last thing any school district ever wants to do is cut staff or activities, but when we are squeezed between major enrollment decline due to housing costs and lower area birth rates on one side, and skyrocketing pension costs on the other (see more here), savings have to be realized to remain fiscally solvent. Wherever possible personnel cuts have been made by not filling vacancies, in other cases we've made some reductions in areas where we believe we can backfill with existing resources or where enrollment changes have in turn changed the needs of the District (for example, the oft-cited cuts made to ELD aides where we have seen a ~35% drop in English language learners in the District and correspondingly, cut around 30% full time equivalent positions in this area). Whenever cuts have to be made the District does everything it possibly can to ensure they don't compromise the world-class education our students receive.
Cuts to SchoolLoop will negatively impact students.
In fact SchoolLoop is being replaced by a better system that will serve our students and families well. SchoolLoop is an expensive system that duplicates what we are able to do with existing programs. At a time when we are in need of finding savings it simply doesn't make sense to pay for two systems that do much the same thing. Any adjustment to a new system will always have some bumps but our Instruction Department and Tech TOSA are working with teachers to train them on the new system.
When there are two sides to a disagreement it's crucial to remain respectful even when your perspective differs. It's important to note that throughout this process we have maintained the value of everyone reading all information available from both sides of the discussion. Read the District's perspective, read ETA's perspective, then make your own decisions as to where you stand on the issues before us. When one side of a disagreement suggests "only read our side of the matter, ignore what anyone else has to say because its 'lies' or 'fake news'," it says a lot about the lack of confidence in their own argument. At all times we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable, and again, we encourage members of the community to get familiar with arguments from all perspectives before forming an opinion about this complicated and sometimes challenging process. Further, on May 22, someone advocating for the ETA side of the discussion posted a "parody version" of this FAQ to social media, and while we always welcome careful scrutiny and debate, we continue to be troubled by the tone and demeanor of too much of said debate. And yet again, in this communication this advocate suggests only listening to one side of the discussion. We say again, read information here, read what is posted at ETAnews.org and make your own determination. But no matter what, always be careful to filter information that is bullying in tone, that singles out individuals, that is disrespectful or that is posted under fake names or aliases. We can do better than that.
The District doesn't "put students first"
This is perhaps the most disheartening misinformation we've seen. "The District" or "administration" is made up of professionals who are in this business because they care about kids, full stop. Many have served 30+ years as educators, many of whom have spent that entire time in Evergreen. Their commitment to kids and their education is what they think about first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Building a strong District that can withstand the financial challenges we face is all about preserving the quality education our kids deserve. That's why we hire great teachers and why we invest our dollars in the classroom. It's why we deliver educational programing that is second to none. It's why we will do everything in our power to ensure that their education is never compromised. Period.
We will continue to share information with our community and answer any questions as they arise. Please contact District Office at 408-270-6800 for any further information. We'll add to this list if/as new questions arise.