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We talk to the head of SDUSD and San Dieo Education Association about the tentative agreement reached this week.
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June 20, 2012 1:20 p.m.
Dr. John Lee Evans, Board President, SDUSD
Bill Freeman, President, San Diego Education Association
Related Story: San Diego Unified, Teachers Announce Tentative Agreement
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Wednesday, June 20th. Our top story on Midday Edition, teachers across the San Diego unified school district are learning the details today of an agreement that will save some of them their jobs. The Teachers' Union and the School Board announced yesterday they reached an agreement that would bring all of the teachers laid off this year back to the classroom this fall. My guest, Kyla Calvert KPBS education reporter. Welcome to the program.
CALVERT: Thank, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Doctor John Lee Evans is the School Board president of San Diego unified. Welcome.
EVANS: Good afternoon.
CAVANAUGH: And bill Freeman joins us, president of the San Diego education association, the Teachers' Union. Welcome to the program.
FREEMAN: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Doctor Evans, the school district is it looking at a $222 million deficit for the coming year. By how much does this agreement close that hole and how?
EVANS: Well, it's actually $122 million debt for next year. And we were solving it by layoffs, and we're trading out some concessions that the teachers have made to balance the budget. So we need to be very grateful for the teachers who have been able to step up and make this sacrifice so we can balance our budget and have a functioning school system.
CAVANAUGH: How much does it actually take out of that $122 million?
EVANS: We have balanced the budget. Either way, we've balanced the budget. So their concessions amounted to about $68 million. The so that's the part that we needed to be able to balance the billion. It was really a math problem. It was a challenging negotiation because we really didn't have any money to work with. And we had to be very creative and both sides worked very hard.
CAVANAUGH: How creative did you get? What kind of concessions were made in these negotiations by the teachers' union?
EVANS: Well, we have had the furlough days, and I want to give them credit for having taken those for the past two years. And a bigger one was foregoing the salary increases, which had been delayed but were scheduled to happen this year. And then there's also a contingency plan if the ballot measure doesn't pass in November. So they have helped us to bring back everybody and still balance the budget at the same time.
CAVANAUGH: What is that contingency plan?
EVANS: What's being talked about across the state. If the ballot measure fails, we're looking at up to three weeks of furlough reduction in the school year. So after this, the district, and the teachers, are all going to work together to make sure that ballot measure passes.
CAVANAUGH: Did both sides make concessions to come to this agreement?
FREEMAN: Both sides made concessions, yes. This is very, very difficult for us. It was a very tough decision, but we think it was the right decision, save the jobs of educators, keep the class sizes down, and protect our classrooms. So it was a tough decision, and I will be the first to say that the educators really truly deserve the restoration that had been negotiated with them. It was a very difficult situation to watch over 1,500 of our colleagues being laid off, many of them would have no healthcare at all. And so it was very, very difficult. It was a difficult situation. And I want you to also understand that though this tentative agreement has been reached, it still has to be ratified by our members. So now we're putting it in the hands of the members to make the final decision as to whether or not they will accept this deal.
CAVANAUGH: Now, the Teachers' Union agreed to forego or postpone this pay raise that was negotiated a couple of years ago that was supposed to come due this year. And they also decided to agree to more furlough days. The furloughs themselves, how much of a pay cut is that for teachers?
FREEMAN: About a 2.7% pay cut for the teachers. And it's very difficult. I mean, just going around talking to teachers, we have hundreds of teachers that have lost their homes. It's obviously not something that they want to brag about. And I think the economy -- teachers are not omitted from living in this bad economy. And when you take pay cuts and you're used to a certain amount of money to make your bills every month, something has to give. And we have a number of educators that have lost a lot as a result of these pay cuts. And yet, I believe that the majority of the educators would be willing to forego the restoration that they don't have in order to keep the income that the many of our members would not coming to them.
CAVANAUGH: Kyla, you spoke to teachers at last night's press conference. What are they saying about this agreement?
CALVERT: One of the people they spoke with was Allison puttitis, she's a third grade teacher at Fay Elementary. All but two of their about 29 staff members were pink slipped. So here's what alsop had to say about the news.
NEW SPEAKER: Just being very excited. We're very hopeful. It's been a really stressful last couple of weeks. We've been fighting really hard. Our parents have been fighting really hard. It's nice to see that they wera able to come together and think about the kids and come to an agreement.
CALVERT: One of the other people in the audience was Cindy Martin, the central at central elementary, and about half of her staff was pink slipped, and she's been a vocal proponent of the union and district sitting down to negotiations, and she explained to me why this agreement benefits the students.
NEW SPEAKER: We've been working together as a team, most of us at that school, for nine years. This will continue the stability that we've created at our school. Some of the problems in public education have to do with turnover. And when you can create a stable, dedicated staff that stays at one site, you build a community.
CALVERT: So they were both hopeful that the union members will approve or ratify this agreement.
CAVANAUGH: Doctor Evans there are some people who are critical of this agreement. One of them, the vice president of the School Board, Scott Barnett, issued a statement and said "this proposal puts kids' education second because of the shorter school year "and he also says it relies too heavily on the governor's tax initiative passing.
EVANS: Well, we made an agreement that makes into account the initiative passing or not passing. And there have been a lot of naysayers on both sides. We're all in agreement that the furlough days are a horrible thing. But the choice was really between having a fully staffed school for a few less days or having them the entire year with an inadequate staff. And that was the choice that we had to make. And I'm glad that everybody was able to come together and work on this. I think the real winners -- the teachers are giving up a lot, and we owe a debt of gratitude to them. The real win ares are the kids in the classroom, they're going to have reasonably sized classes, music and arts, language programs, nurses and counselors staffing the school.
CAVANAUGH: This criticized the move last year saying the district should have saved that money. When the top of the year came, the end of the year, and they looked at the budget again, they found out that didn't have as much money as they thought, and there was talk of insolvency. So is it wise to bring all the teachers back? Couldn't you save some money in this deal?
EVANS: Well, the fact of the matter is, at the beginning of the year, we went over our staff, and we came to the conclusion that we have cut as much as we can cut at this point. We've cut over 2,000 staff over the last few years. We would have an inadequate program with less than this. We have to operate on a year to year basis, and that's the way the state gives us our money. So we have to make the best decision we can each year. And a first grader, a third grader, they're only in that class for one year, we need to do the best we can for that year.
CAVANAUGH: You have reinstated basically all the teachers you've laid off, and they're going to be returning in September, based on the notion that voters will approve this November initiative. But if they don't, then what happens?
EVANS: Well, we were able to bring them back because what the teachers agreed to is that if it doesn't pass, then we have an out clause, which is an additional up to 14 furlough days that we're able to continue with all the teachers for the coming year.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. So if indeed voters don't pass that initiative, there's up to two weeks less in the school year?
EVANS: 14 school days.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Bill, is this a contract you believe the majority of your members will go along with?
FREEMAN: I think the majority of our members will go along with it. Again, I think it's sad that we've reached this point. But I do believe that at the end of the day, we know that what's important to the educators is the kids. It's the kids that we teach. And so I think that the members would. And talking to the members, and is this what they said, I would rather give up something that I don't have, that's the restoration, in order for other members to keep what they have and not lose everything. And that's then the consensus for the most part from the majority of our members. And reading their e-mails, and going to the sites, and talking to the members. So yes, I do believe that the members will pass this.
CAVANAUGH: Kyla Calvert, you were talking about -- you had a quote from someone from Fay elementary talking about being happy with this agreement that the union and the school district reached. Almost all of her staff had been pink slipped. Will those same teaches will able to return to Fay elementary?
CALVERT: That is what doctor Evans here said was the goal for the district last night at that press conference, that their goal is to get teachers back in the same positions that they had left or that they were pink slipped from. We were also discussing this last night. The host and bid sort of window at the district closed today I believe where open positions were posted for remaining teachers to apply to. So so far as I happened, there's some very technical shuffling that has to happen to figure out which positions are still open, and which positions were sort of not open because there are now pink slips teachers to return to them.
EVANS: Beauty of bringing everybody back is that they can go back to their same positions. This is really important. Not only do we want our teachers there and smaller class sizes, it's really important that we really maintain the stability of our schools.
CAVANAUGH: Are other San Diego school districts looking to similar measures such as this agreement to avoid budget shortfalls and layoffs?
CALVERT: Yes, the Carlsbad school district and their teachers union, and the Sweetwater union high school district, and theirs, just reached agreements. The San Marcos school district has also I think reached an agreement that includes some furlough days. So people all over the county are going to have their children in school for 1-3 fewer weeks next year.
CAVANAUGH: Bill Freeman, I saw some quotes in some articles written about this agreement. Some teachers are saying this Harolds a new day for the district and the union. So the aim will be to reach agreements like this and get the school year moving on and do the best for kids. Do you see this as a new day for that kind of relationship?
FREEMAN: I think it's important that we talk. And that's very important. I guess I do. We sat down, and we went over the district's budget with them. We got our budget analysts from CTA to do that, and we went over the budget. Otherwise we would have sat back and said no, they have the money, they can do it, they can bring them back. And we would have all lost had we taken that approach. So I think it's very, very important that we deal with this, with these situations, in the same way that we teach our kids to deem with problems, and that is to sit down and talk about them and try and come to some understanding. Had we not sat down and looked at the district's budget, we would still be over here saying no, they can afford it, they can afford it. But we found out that they couldn't afford the layoffs, and the restorations. So hopefully this will be a new day for class action between the district and SDEA.
CAVANAUGH: Would it be fair to say that one of the concessions that the district made was to extend the teachers' contract for an additional year?
EVANS: That was mutually beneficial in terms of having stability. The big thing is we're going to continue talking and working together. All I've wanted all year is for the president and the board of education to see both sides and sit down. We have a lot of tough times ahead. We're going to have to work together to get the ballot measures passed, and it's crucial that we have a good relationship.
CAVANAUGH: When do the teachers vote on this agreement?
FREEMAN: The 24th, 25th, and 26th. And one of the reasons that this was so rushed was to as you guys mentioned earlier, to keep these learning communities together and to also insure that the educators had health insurance. We have expecting mom, individuals with critical illnesses that just cannot take a lapse in their health insurance, and this is very very far important to many of our members, whether they were laid off or not.
CAVANAUGH: We have to end it there. I want to thank you all very, very much.
EVANS: Thank you
FREEMAN: Thank you.
CALVERT: Thank you.