Parents, teachers, ask for quick and quiet contract closure

Parents, teachers, ask for quick and quiet contract closure

Michele Ellson

Teachers and parents crowded into council chambers Tuesday night to urge a swift resolution to negotiations toward a contract for Alameda’s teachers and an end to the rancorous public airing of bargaining details.

Sarah Olaes, an Otis Elementary parent who was active in the past two school parcel tax campaigns, asked teachers and school district leaders to dial back on the heated rhetoric that has marked public discussion of the negotiations and to take the negotiations back behind closed doors. Her comments followed an open letter published on the Alameda Community News Project and Patch websites on Sunday asking the district and union leaders to take details of the negotiations off their respective websites. Neither removed those items by the Monday deadline she set, though the district appears to have removed a summary detailing grievances filed by teachers and their union and as of Tuesday night had not published a bargaining update there since April 27.

Olaes said parents thanked her for similar comments at a testy forum on the negotiations at Otis last week and that parents are afraid to speak out because they fear they’ll be accused of taking sides in the contract dispute – something she and others took pains to say they weren’t doing.

Franklin Elementary PTA President Amy Garcia offered praise for both teachers and administrators, saying she didn’t think they would be at Tuesday’s meeting if they didn’t care about educating Alameda’s children.

“I hope that common goal, shared by every teacher and administrator, will bring a successful resolution to negotiations soon,” Garcia said.

Teachers and their supporters offered an emotional plea to conclude negotiations as well, along with their frustrations with what they have consistently said they see as a lack of respect from district administrators.

“We don’t feel listened to, and we don’t feel respected,” said teacher and parent Maria McCord, who urged school board members to work with Superintendent Kirsten Vital to resolve contract issues. McCord presented a petition with 400 signatures collected at the Park Street Spring Festival urging a contract resolution.

Dozens of teachers donned green Alameda Education Association T-shirts and marched to City Hall to speak out on contract negotiation issues. Teachers and district officials have yet to resolve a single article of the teachers’ new contract, or a calendar for the 2012-2013 school year.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital has said she’ll ask the school board to okay a calendar for the first three months of school if an agreement on a calendar isn’t reached soon.

Teachers have threatened to strike if the school board opts to permanently impose K-3 class sizes of 25 students per teacher, though Alameda Education Association President Gray Harris told attendees at a May 7 forum that the union had conceded the class size issue. Teachers and the district are in the midst of mediation over class sizes, and a fact-finding session intended to produce a recommendation about class sizes is due to take place Friday, with a report expected in June.

Teachers and the district started bargaining a new contract in January, though class size discussions began last year.

The comments preceded a presentation detailing the way Measure A parcel tax dollars are being spent. The district expects to collect roughly $12 million this year from the seven-year parcel tax, which costs property owners 32 cents for each square foot of building they own.

In 2011, the school board approved a detailed list of categories and items the tax money was to be spent on, and the program manager in charge of riding herd on the spending, Rob Siltanen, told the board that spending is on track with the amounts they okayed.

The district is using the money to supplement its spending on teacher salaries, high school Advanced Placement courses and athletics, counseling, technology and more. The money is being used to backfill lost state funding that once covered those costs, Siltanen said. District leaders had said they were facing $13 million in cuts this year and next without the tax.

District staff is set to recommend Measure A expenditures for 2012-2013 on June 12.

The tax allocates $814,200 to help keep Franklin, Washington and Otis elementary schools open, an amount that helps to cover the cost of a principal, office manager, health clerk and custodian at each site. It also offers $480,000 for high school athletics, which covers about 80 percent of the cost of those programs. Another $842,000 helps pay the cost of music, physical education and media center at the district’s 10 elementary schools.

More than a quarter of the tax revenues - $3.12 million – supplements the district’s existing teacher salary schedule, while another $1.56 million pays to keep K-3 class sizes at 25 students per teacher, instead of 32 students per teacher.

Other funds were used to fund efforts to implement new magnet and innovative school programs and to help pay for district teaching and professional development initiatives, charter schools and adult education programs.

The board allocated $340,348 for technology spending, about $100,000 of which was used to upgrade the district’s networks and servers and another $139,000 of which paid for new staff computers and document cameras and LCD projectors for teachers. Another $101,150 was allocated as mini-grants of $11 per student that schools could use to purchase technology they need or are interested in trying out.

The amount of money to be collected this year is estimated to be about $100,000 less than anticipated, though final figures aren’t yet available. The school board will also need to decide what to do with funds that weren’t spent this year, though two members of the oversight committee charged with ensuring funds were spent the way they were supposed to be spent said they thought the money should fund similar expenses in future years.

The district is on track to spend less money than anticipated this year for counselors, for example, though Vital said it will pay more for counselors next year and could use the money to cover those costs.

Siltanen presented expenditure figures through January 31. He said final numbers for this year’s spending should be available in the fall.

Separately, the district’s chief business officer presented some preliminary information about the impacts California’s school districts could feel if Governor Jerry Brown’s revised budget proposal for 2012-2013 passes – and also if voters reject both of the tax initiatives supporting schools that are expected to be on the November ballot.

Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said that if one of the tax measures being proposed by Brown and attorney Molly Munger passes, state funding for schools would continue as-is next year. But if voters reject both, the district would see funding cuts.

His presentation didn’t offer specific local numbers, though Vital said the district could see funding reductions of $6 million to $9 million – reductions Shemwell said the district could shoulder next year but not after that.

In other news, students from Encinal and Alameda high schools appealed to the board for the retention of Encinal's trio of administrators and the reinstatement of Alameda High's junior varsity girls basketball coach.

A pair of Encinal students, one of them Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer's daughter, Elaine, asked the district to keep Encinal's co-principals and dean of students, who have run the school for two years. Their status wasn't made clear by district officials who attended the meeting. Current and former Alameda High students asked the board to reinstate Stephan Barnett as a girls' basketball coach at the school. Autumn Ward, an Alameda High sophomore, said Barnett had been dismissed from the post after a parent complained he had used inappropriate language toward a player, though he has been allowed to continue as the school's girls golf coach, she said.

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Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Tue, May 29, 2012

I support Sarah Olaes' plea to both parties to stop their public, online, and editorial page "flame wars." The AEA and its supporters (and I am one) seems more responsible for this heated emotional rhetoric, but AUSD supporters have also attacked teachers unfairly for trying to stand up for Alameda's public school students as well as themselves.

Everyone in our community--not just teachers, students, and parents--needs the two sides to reach a fair and financially responsible contract. Both parties need to take a deep breath and start looking for areas of agreement, not areas of difference. We are all on the same side.

I am grateful to all those who have been working in good faith to bring the two sides together. I hope their efforts will bear fruit soon in a signed contract. It takes two to tango, as the old saw goes...