Thursday, April 24, 2014

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

From page A1 | May 04, 2012 | 17 Comments

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 or (530) 747-8055. 


Discussion | 17 comments

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  • Save GermanMay 04, 2012 - 8:03 am

    Another major topic discussed at the Board meeting was trying to cancel the excellent German language program as a low-enrolled course, which has been taught in Davis for over 30 years. A "compromise" was proposed where first year German would be taught only in alternate years with first year Chinese. That decision will effectively gut the program at a later date. German is the most widely spoken language (perhaps after English) in Europe. It has the biggest GDP in Europe, and has one of the biggest economies in the world (bigger than France or Spain). Study German and your kids can get a job aborad! German is the easiest foreign langauge for Americans to learn since English is a Germanic language. Chinese and Japanese (which are offered at DHS) are incredibly difficult languages. Chinese is tonal and has a written character system, making it almost impossible to learn. Most kids who take these classes are native speakers, so it unclear why Chinese is offered as a "world language" in the Davis public schools when only a fraction of the kids can take and master it. As an example, nationally 75% of kids who take the Chinese AP exam get a 5 (the highest score) because they are native speakers. The main reason that German is underenrolled is that many 6th grade parents do not realize that their child can take German at the high school. There is nothing on the junior high websites, which is unfair. This year, the first year German class was moved from the last period to the middle of the day, making it impossible for 7th graders to take it. The administration should really support the German program, which is truly a world language and has much to offer our kids.

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  • Bilingual speakerMay 04, 2012 - 9:27 pm

    Last time I checked English was the world language. I have yet to travel to a country where I couldn't find someone who didn't speak English. Having grown up a bilingual speaker in the US, mastery in reading and writing of English is the foundation for any success I've achieved in my life. I am bilingual because my parent made me go to language school in addition to English school, not because there was German, French, Spanish, Japanese or Chinese 3, 4, 5 or 6 offered at my high school. When we cram 31 K - 3rd graders and 34 4th-6th graders into a classroom that can't physically fit them, we are taking away their opportunity to master the language that will truly make them global competitors. Yes, dual language is important, but how many bilingual students are we really churning out via the high school program? Are any of the college level classes offered at the high school worth the damage it would cause to ALL the current elementary students?

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  • AJTMay 04, 2012 - 11:09 pm

    That's a weak argument for saving a low-demand German course in a troubled economy. English is much easier to learn than German, so if you ever want to work in German-speaking country, the chances are that they will speak very good English. If you are really interested in teaching kids that will help land a good job, Chinese and Spanish are no-brainers. "Chinese and Japanese are incredibly difficult"? You must have a really low opinion of Davis kids. I'm sure there are many kids smart enough to learn these languages and if these classes were spared, that's because many kids want to take these classes. It's incredibly disrespectful to criticize other language classes to support your agenda.

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  • World languagesMay 05, 2012 - 2:11 pm

    Are you suggesting that we should offer no foreign languages at DHS, simply English? You need to take a foreign language to get into a good college. Very few non-natives actually (in Davis or nationally) take Chinese and Japanese. No, learning Chinese where you can say "hello, how are you?" will definitely not land you a job. Simply because there are 1 billion Chinese doesn't mean that you should learn Chinese- look at how many American companies have failed to break into their market, since it is a very bureaucratic and insular nation. It is not criticizing other languages to make simple points that very few kids (who are non-native) wish/will take Chinese or Japanese. You need to look at what the mission of a public school is- to educate everyone, not a select few. Dropping Chinese or Japanese or whatever unfortunately will not fill the projected $2.5 million gap our schools are facing this fall. We need to pass some tax initiatives at the state level to get more money back to our schools.

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  • ml1999May 04, 2012 - 11:08 am

    We have upwards of 25 percent unemployment and under-employment, and teachers want to protect their fiefdom? I respect their work, dedication, and what they do for our children. But our state has been mismanaged for decades, and we are all suffering. So when the average California teacher makes $67,000 per year, that's pushing $90,000 per year for a full years work. (Most teachers work 9 in the classroom.) I applaud Mr. Roberson's decision to forgo his tuition credit. Let the teacher's follow suit.

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  • LeilaMay 04, 2012 - 4:22 pm

    ml1999 works as a paid poster for the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers actually do have a fiefdom of several billion dollars. Oil barons. They have employed folks across the country in secret to work covertly to bust unions and bring down the middle class. The comments above from ml1999 really have nothing to do with teachers, per se. Teachers'and the unions that protect them--and all of us by extension who are in the middle class-- are under attack so the Koch brothers program of creating poverty and crushing democracy can continue.

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  • ml1999May 05, 2012 - 1:08 am

    The Enterprise editorial staff should remind their writers of the basics - who, what, when, where, why and how. Ergo, if the powers that be are proposing a 5.5% cut: 1) what does the average DUSD teacher make now; 2) what will they make after that proposed cut?; and 3) how many days are they required to teach in the classroom, per said contract? Then, let the reader decide based on the facts.

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  • ml1999May 05, 2012 - 1:19 am

    P.S. If I'm affiliated with the Koch brothers, Elvis shot JFK with a single bullet.

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  • LeilaMay 05, 2012 - 11:24 am

    ml1999 that's funny! Hahaha--if Elvis shot JFK with a silver bullet, then I am...Rich Rifkin!

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  • ObserverMay 04, 2012 - 4:30 pm

    Leila: Thanks for that funnny parody on lefty bloggers.

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  • LeilaMay 04, 2012 - 5:35 pm

    Nice parry Observer. But I am dead serious.

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  • KarenMay 05, 2012 - 11:41 am

    I think what is really bothering most of the Elementary School teachers (myself included) is the Board is still spending, adding classes to the Secondary schools and/or keeping low enrolled classes on the schedule while increasing class sizes in elementary. We are expected to make sure all our students get a quality education, proficient in every aspect of the curriculum, and maintain good classroom management - along with our after school district commitments-grading papers, talking to parents, tutoring students, working in clubs- with more students and less pay (including increases in our contributions to benefits). Most teachers in this district are dedicated professionals and are willing to put in the extra hours but pains to see we are making these sacrifices so the Board can spend as usual.

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  • wdf1May 05, 2012 - 4:59 pm

    Is there a specific example you can point to of courses being added at the high school in the past couple of years? Later in the agenda of the school board meeting mentioned, the school board reviewed courses that were being cut due to low enrollment. But that was after most of the teachers had left.

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  • LindaMay 05, 2012 - 6:52 pm

    Baroque Music, PE Strength and Condition for a start

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  • wdf1May 05, 2012 - 9:19 pm

    The orchestra program has 150+ students. Band program also has as many students, probably slightly more, and also three groups, just like orchestra. That's an average of 50 students per group. It looks like more efficient staffing than any other courses at the high school. Why should that course be a problem?

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  • wdf1May 05, 2012 - 9:20 pm

    Baroque was added 4 years ago.

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  • May 3 School Board Meeting | Davis Teachers AssociationMay 14, 2012 - 6:03 pm

    [...] responsible budgeting that supports students and respects teachers. The Enterprise published this story about it. Here is the full text of DTA President Gail Mitchell’s [...]

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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