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Teachers give school board another earful

DTA president Gail Mitchell speaks as teachers stand and offer silent support for her comments at Thursday's school board meeting. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | May 04, 2012 |

The Davis school board faced another standing-room-only audience Thursday night as the trustees adopted several budget deficit-driven decisions they said they would prefer not to make.

Among those present were a large contingent of teachers who are unhappy at the prospect of smaller paychecks and bigger class sizes.

The teachers are in the midst of contract negotiations with the school district, a situation to which Davis Teachers Association president Gail Mitchell alluded in her comments.

“Two weeks ago, the (school) board asked us to consider a 5.5 percent permanent, ongoing pay cut,” she said. “What I hear from teacher after teacher, at site after site, is: ‘I can’t afford to see my paycheck shrink any further.’ ”

She warned that some teachers would need to move out of town or take a child out of college if the pay cut is adopted.

Teacher Rusi Gustafson, who has a kindergarten class at Birch Lane Elementary, said that “three weeks ago, we were warned to expect a total of 31 students in each of our classes next year,” and he noted that four years ago, kindergarten class size was 20 students.

Gustafson protested “this board’s intention to recompense us for this 50 percent increase in class size … with a 5.5 percent pay cut.” He warned that teachers are reaching “a breaking point.”

Tim Fahlen, a teacher at Emerson Junior High, worried about the reduction in hours for vice principals at the district’s three junior high schools.

“Schools will always be in crisis mode,” Fahlen warned. “A vice principal’s tasks are gi-normous. … How are problems going to be handled if the principal is gone, or not available?”

Marla Cook, a sixth-grade teacher at Willett Elementary, called for “a freeze on spending … no new reading series, no new language programs to replace ones that work,” and “no new computers, even.” She called on all district employees to consider a 1 percent pay cut.

In contrast to the April 19 school board meeting, some teachers praised Winfred Roberson on Thursday night. Last month, teachers protested a clause in Roberson’s new contract, under which the school district would reimburse him about $15,000 a year for tuition as he participates in a three-year doctoral program.

A few days later, Roberson quietly sent an email to teachers saying “I regret that the tuition reimbursement has become a distraction in the workplace. … I will not accept reimbursement for tuition costs.”

On Thursday, Roberson got credit for taking “the first step by declining to have his education subsidized (by the district),” as one teacher put it.

While negotiations between the teachers union and the district are rocky on some issues, a tentative agreement was announced Thursday with the district’s other bargaining unit. Assistant Superintendent Matt Best and Jim Herrington, president of the California School Employees Association local — representing custodial and maintenance workers, secretaries and others — said the tentative agreement includes two furlough days for CSEA members in the coming school year.

About four layoff notices to CSEA members will be rescinded as a result, but several other employees will still be pink-slipped under a pair of resolutions that the school board approved Thursday night.

Trustees also approved final layoff notices for teachers and other staffers who had received preliminary layoff notices in March. Those job eliminations will reduce the district’s $3.5 million budget deficit by about $2.5 million. The staffing reduction also will swell class sizes throughout the district.

“I don’t want to vote for this,” said trustee Gina Daleiden, but she noted with dismay that the alternatives were even worse. “We could close two schools, and may get close to saving $1 million.”

Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby told the trustees that the district’s fiscal reserves have dwindled after years of budget reductions by the state.

“We are running low on cash and if we are not extremely careful, we will run out of cash and go bankrupt,” he warned.

Colby cited a letter from the Yolo County Office of Education, which reviews local school district budgets, noting that if the Davis district doesn’t make $3 million or more in budget reductions, “the district would have a qualified or possibly negative budget certification,” which could result in the state appointing a trustee to assume control of major budget decisions.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055. 

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