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California Schools Ready to Cut More Class Time; What About Runaway Labor Costs?Steve Gunn Special to Salem-News.com
Are children the lowest priority in the California public school system?
(LOS ANGELES EAGNews) - We have to wonder, following last week’s contract settlement between the Los Angeles school board and the United Teachers of Los Angeles, which gives teachers up to 10 unpaid "furlough days" and cuts five days of instruction to help erase a budget shortfall.
This pathetic strategy seems to be spreading statewide. A recent proposal from California Gov. Jerry Brown would allow school districts to eliminate as many as 15 school days over the next two years if his tax increase ballot proposal is not approved by voters in November.
Critics say the governor and his allies are holding public education hostage in an effort to pressure voters to approve the tax hike.
Missing in all of this is a concerted effort across the state to address runaway union labor costs and help districts get more practical use from existing revenue.
Our recent review of labor spending in the Los Angeles district during the 2010-11 school year shows that millions of dollars in perks could have been trimmed, suspended or eliminated without lowering anyone’s base salary.
Instead they eliminated teaching positions and cut class time prior to that school year, as well. Clearly union financial interests trumped student interests, and nothing seems to have changed since then.
What about cutting labor costs?
In other urban districts across the nation, like Chicago, mayors and school boards are fighting the unions to arrange more instructional time for students. But in Los Angeles, this is the fourth straight year that a labor agreement will result in fewer hours of instruction, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A total of 18 days have been trimmed from the school calendar in that time, according to the newspaper.
The new deal will allow the district to avoid about 4,000 planned layoffs, but more than 1,300 jobs are still likely to be eliminated.
The Times article said the new union agreement was negotiated for "expediency more than the best interests of children."
The article also said there’s a "strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.
"In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves and family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education."
Our point exactly.
EAGnews.org recently identified major labor costs tied to provisions in the United Teachers of Los Angeles collective bargaining agreement for the 2010-11 school year.
They included $334 million for employee health insurance premiums with no contributions from employees; $82 million for retiree health insurance premiums with no contribution from retirees; $47 million for automatic, annual salary increases for teachers who were not laid off; $6.2 million in extra pay for teachers who covered classes for absent colleagues; $5.4 million for retirement bonuses for employees covered by the teachers union contract; and $3.7 million in bonuses for teachers who gain national board certification.
There are more startling dollar figures where those came from. All of the information will be released next week in a new report titled "Sucking the Life out of America's Public Schools: The Expense of Teachers Union Contracts, Part 5, the United Teachers of Los Angeles Contract."
Parents and taxpayers in Los Angeles should demand to know if the district is planning to continue this type of outrageous labor spending in the future. Their is no justification for cutting instructional time while granting automatic raises to teachers for nothing more than showing up the next year.
Sacrificing student needs
Some school and union officials in California are facing reality.
A good example is the San Diego district, where officials told the union that it must give up a scheduled 7 percent salary increase and make other concessions to avoid the layoff of hundreds of teachers next year.
For months the radical union leadership played a game of chicken with the school board and refused to consider concessions. But then the membership rose up and tossed out the radicals in the most recent union election. A more moderate leadership team recently negotiated an agreement with the district to give up the raise and save the threatened teaching jobs.
But too many California districts seem to be pinning their hopes on the outcome of the statewide tax vote. They believe the increased revenue will help them maintain services at close to current levels. And if the tax proposal is defeated, many will react by cutting class time for students instead of perks for union members.
That’s not good, considering California already has one of the nation’s shortest school years with 175 mandated days of instruction.
The Sacramento school district has agreed with its union to give teachers 10 additional furlough days if the ballot proposal fails, according to the Los Angeles Times. The San Juan district may give teachers 11 unpaid furlough days.
More furlough days usually lead to fewer school days. Someone has to teach the classes, after all.
Sacramento Superintendent Jonathon Raymond was quoted as saying that his district has already cut athletics, busing and counselors, all items that directly impact students.
"What is there left?" he asked. "Nothing."
We could suggest some very logical cuts in the labor spending category, Mr. Raymond.
"If the worst case scenario occurs, we will still be able to stay solvent," said Tom Alves, executive director of the San Juan Teachers Association.
That means the school will still have operating money, and the unions will still have dues revenue. But what about the kids who are continually losing class time? Aren’t they supposed to be the point of all of this?
School officials should look union leaders in the eye and tell them that cutting the academic calendar will no longer be an option. Schools exist to teach children, and more of that should be happening, not less.
Source: Education Action Group Foundation, Inc.
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