Dear Alameda Community Members,
No one can remember a time when Alameda's teachers have ever rejected a Tentatively Agreed upon contract (TA). It is important to explain how this occurred.
AUSD refuses to bargain. Approximately one year ago, AUSD proposed that teachers should accept permanent increases to work load without any increase to compensation. That proposal did not change despite the many efforts made by AEA to reach agreement. When mediation failed the first time, we found ourselves on a path to Fact Finding and faced with the likelihood of a strike. Teachers do not want to go on strike so AEA contacted a different mediator and asked AUSD to return to mediation in another effort to reach agreement.
I presented the membership with the TA that was negotiated over 58 hours of mediation and I felt that it was the best deal we could hope to achieve in the current climate. It is important to understand that this TA was not created within the regular bargaining process where teachers can be updated and consulted during the creation of the agreement. Instead it was created under strict confidentiality, which the Superintendent has decided to disregard in her recent letter, and the teachers were not able to consider the various compromises until agreement was reached.
When the teachers did finally see the length of AUSD's demands, they decided that they could not accept the contract. The vote was a clear majority, with nearly three no votes to every one yes vote.
I’d like to present four reasons that led to this outcome.
First is the issue of collaboration. The Superintendent failed to mention in her recent letter that students would have lost 45 minutes of instructional time per week. Some grade levels did not have 45 minutes beyond the state requirements, so those students would have lost recess time. Also, the collaboration schedule would have required parents to either pick up their students 45 minutes earlier or arrive 45 minutes later.
Second requires a brief explanation of Labor Relations. Past Practice, or what the parties have always done, controls interpretation of contract language and also controls what happens in the absence of contact language. The issues of Academic Freedom, Complaints, and Calendar were all governed by Past Practice until Superintendent Vital arrived in Alameda. In the years since she was hired by the School Board, our contract has been reinterpreted, and misinterpreted with a disregard of Past Practice. This has lead to 38 grievances during Vital's reign compared to 6 during the three previous years combined.
While the Superintendent's smooth letters to the community may lead one to believe that the District made concessions, the truth is that teachers feel that the language in the TA is actually worse for educators than the absence of language. For example, one Past Practice is the way the teachers have made calendars and then voted to select the calendar. Two years ago, the School Board began vetoing the selected calendar in clear violation of Past Practice. If the rules governing labor relations are going to be ignored, then we must revert to the law which provides teachers the right to negotiate a calendar. If AUSD wanted to bargain a calendar, we would have one now.
Third is the issue of salary. While teachers gave up eight days of pay (4.5% of salary) during the 2010-2011 school year and then fought alongside AUSD and parents to help pass Measure A, there was no reimbursement for any of that lost pay. Teachers did the same work last year in less time with a pay cut.
While the TA provides a one-time payment, equal to 1% of teacher’s salary, that doesn’t affect recurring salary. Since it’s a bonus, it can be taxed at a higher rate. The 1.5% is not guaranteed as ongoing salary and does nothing to change the fact that Alameda's teachers are nearly the lowest paid in the county.
The district is holding a significant amount of money in reserves, above and beyond the requirements. AUSD also has received the first payment from Measure A. Combined, this was seemingly enough to cause the School Board to increase the compensation to the Superintendent and her executive cabinet last August. Superintendent Vital's four-year contract is worth approximately $1 million which is roughly the same value as a 3% payment to all teachers. The teachers don’t see the equity in this and they don't see the fairness in teachers’ salaries being tied directly to state funding while the AUSD executive cabinets’ are not. Healthcare costs increased by approximately 12% this year and a teacher pays approximately $1,000/month out of pocket for a family insurance plan.
Fourth is the issue of class size. Small class size is better for students. The District says that 20:1 in K-3 costs only $500,000 more than 25:1. The Superintendent told every teacher in this district that Measure A was going to allow us to revert from 25 to 24 to 23 to 22 to 21 and back to 20. That was always the intent of the MOU because it is the best thing for our students.
What this all boils down to is an issue of trust. Some teachers may have voted no because of the money, but the majority of them voted no because of all the other issues. The teachers do not trust this administration and they do not like the direction our district is heading. The Superintendent can continue to paint teachers in a negative light but eventually the community will see the truth. We will continue to move forward on successor negotiations, striving to reach an agreement that Alameda teachers can ratify.
Alameda Education Association President