By Frank C. Thomsen
Our children and our community have a lot at stake in the November election. The outcomes of Proposition 30 and Measure E will determine whether we even maintain the current precarious fiscal situation we now have or whether we will face a future of immediate and ongoing school cuts that is almost too bleak to contemplate.
While we hope for the best, the school district has a responsibility to plan for the worst. Davis teachers understand that, and so we have been engaged in a good-faith effort to prepare for that worst-case scenario. As previously announced in The Enterprise, the Davis Teachers Association’s negotiating team has offered, in the event that Proposition 30 fails, five furlough days that will save the district more than $900,000.
While it is difficult to give up five instructional days with our students, we believe that ending the school year a week early — together with concessions from other employee groups and a freeze on discretionary spending at the district level — will provide the bridge money needed to make it through June, even if the election results don’t go our way.
The district, however, wants 10 furlough days. We oppose the district’s proposal because we know that our teachers and students just cannot afford it.
As teachers, we are already struggling to cover curriculum with larger class sizes and increased student needs. Ending school two weeks early would put our children two weeks behind. Teachers would have to consider what to leave out of the curriculum, to decide what the children would not learn during that time — what math facts would not be practiced, what science concept would not be introduced, what spelling lesson would fall by the wayside.
We are concerned about our students — and we’re also concerned about our own families. Ten furlough days means a 10 percent pay cut for Davis teachers during the January through June period. Very few of us can absorb that without taking on an extra job (and jobs are now scarce), dipping into our own children’s college savings or going into debt.
This pay cut would hurt Davis teachers who have already seen their paychecks diminished through inflation, health insurance increases and past furlough days. We have had no cost-of-living adjustment since 2006 (and only 1 percent then), even though between 2006 and 2011, cumulative inflation in California has eroded our earnings by more than 14 percent.
Additionally, employees are absorbing all rate increases for health benefits, an ongoing de facto pay cut. Full coverage including a Kaiser health plan, for example, costs a teacher’s family more than $940 per month out of pocket.
These costs do not even take into account the one-year 2.7 percent pay reduction in 2010-11, which we agreed to because we were told that there was a one-time emergency. We did not expect the district would turn to us every time it had trouble balancing its budget.
As a teacher, voter, taxpayer, DJUSD parent and community member, I urge a different path. Now that we know reduced state funding is the “new normal,” we have a responsibility to examine every expenditure, prioritizing student learning while leaving no solution off the table. We also need to provide employees — teachers, administrators, and other staff — with salaries and benefits competitive with surrounding districts both because it is the right thing to do and because we want to recruit and retain the best.
Let’s limit lost instructional days to five, cut unnecessary expenses immediately — and spend the next month spreading the word that Proposition 30 and Measure E are the first steps toward a more stable future for schools and students.
— Frank C. Thomsen is president of the Davis Teachers Association.