Close to Home: A school district’s greatest asset: Teachers
A recent Press Democrat article (“Report criticizes Petaluma school board, officials,” Jan. 31), provided an overview of a report just released by the North Bay Workers’ Rights Board concerning the contract stalemate between Petaluma teachers and Petaluma City Schools. I would like to elaborate several points, as well as address some comments made by two school board members in the article.
First, the North Bay Workers’ Rights Board consists of leaders of faith, labor and community organizations from the North Bay. While the board is affiliated with North Bay Jobs with Justice, a labor-community organization, the North Bay Workers’ Rights Board panelists acted independently to produce the report and consist of a Santa Rosa Junior College instructor who resides in Petaluma, two Catholic priests, (one from a Petaluma church), a labor leader and myself, a former K-12 teacher and school principal.
Second, to try to break the impasse, the North Bay Workers’ Rights Board made suggestions to both sides. One of the main recommendations of the report is that teachers and district management alike take the initiative to break the cycle of recrimination that permeates the district.
Neither side, nor the children, can benefit from this ongoing dispute.
In response to a comment in the report that both sides need to work on repairing their relationship, a school board member stated, “of course we do.” Yet the report found that most school board members have not participated in a collegial and ongoing dialogue with teachers.
Third, the Petaluma City Schools’ board president, who responded to the fact that teachers haven’t received a cost-of-living increase in seven years, was disingenuous when he claimed, “about 90 percent of the teachers have received experienced-based or augmented-education wage increases.”
By misrepresenting contractually built-in step and column salary adjustments as evidence of a raise, the school board president disrespects the teachers.
The board president also neglected to acknowledge that the district is holding 11 percent of its funds in reserve, well above the minimum 3 percent required by the state, and above the new Proposition 2 cap that will be implemented in the future.
Finally, another school board member stated: “The report didn’t break any new ground or offer concrete solutions.”
Our investigation revealed that the district is managed using a business model that operates in a top-down manner and with the priority given first to a line-item budget and not to the needs of the instructional program.
Moreover, the Workers’ Rights Board offered specific suggestions throughout the report, which included:
The School Board members should be more accessible to teachers and the community and should hold meetings with teachers.
The district should reinvigorate the district’s Trust Agreements, which outline the way that teachers and district management should engage in shared-decision making regarding staff development, curriculum planning and other policy initiatives.
The district should allow (non-negotiator) teachers to observe negotiations to foster transparency and reduce distrust.
The district should provide transparent, accurate, fiscal accounting to teachers including line-item budget.
The district should prioritize a cost-of-living adjustment of 4 percent for the teachers who have not received a salary increase in seven years and took furlough days to help the district meet its budget challenges during hard financial times (when, however, during the same time period, the superintendent received a substantial increase in pay and benefits).
If the district takes action now to resolve the dispute, which threatens the quality of education in Petaluma schools, the teachers have indicated that they are ready to cooperate.
Unfortunately, the comments in the article from the two school board members reinforce the perception by teachers that the board is not willing to address their concerns.
Matt Myres is chairman of the North Bay Workers’ Rights Board. Download the report at www.northbayjobswithjustice.org.