A Teachers View of Salary Concessions: Just Say No
Original post made by Concerned Citizen, Amador Valley High School, on Feb 18, 2010
Good morning one and all.
I'd like to preface this letter by apologizing to all of you for sending this through First Class. I know our union leadership requested that we not "debate" the issue of wage concessions using the First Class email system because district administration and the Board are able to monitor these emails…but I wanted to address the entire union membership on this issue, not just those who are able to show up at this week's membership meeting, and First Class is the only way I can do that. Besides, does anybody really think our Board and district administration don't already know everything we have to say on the issue of wage concessions?
As the subject heading of this email suggests, I am urging my fellow APT members to "just say no" to wage concessions. While the argument for making concessions is powerful and valid, I believe that making wage concessions at this time is a mistake we will regret in the
I believe that we deserve a fair wage for the efforts we put into our
profession. Many of us are already struggling with higher workloads and our wages have been either stagnant or declining in the face of loss of cost-of-living adjustments as well as increases in the cost of medical insurance.
The community of Pleasanton talks about "compromise"and "cooperation", but what do these words mean? To me, a "compromise" is when someone meets you halfway in solving a problem, or at least does his/her fair share to help solve that problem.
Last year, we teachers offered the community of Pleasanton a fair deal:
$233 a year in parcel taxes to help support our schools (for four years) and we, in turn, would each give the equivalent of $1,000 in salary. Teachers who own homes in Pleasanton would have made a double sacrifice, paying both the parcel tax and giving up salary.
We asked the community of Pleasanton to meet us halfway in solving this financial crisis. The community said "no".
Now it's our turn to say "no": "No" to wage concessions at this time. It is fundamentally unfair to expect the teachers of the Pleasanton district to shoulder the entire burden of balancing the district's budget.
Not only that, but what are we being asked to sacrifice? Five days of pay a year, one way or another, amounts to an average salary cut of $190 per month per union member, or $2,280 a year.
$2,280 a year. That's nearly 10 times the parcel tax the voters of
Pleasanton told us they couldn't afford (which amounted to 64 cents a
In return, what will we get for these wage concessions?
We won't get protection from layoffs. The district cannot balance its
budget entirely through wage concessions. I estimate 30-40 people are
going to lose their jobs this year even if we vote for the wage
concessions, and it doesn't stop there. The budget gap gets even bigger next year, and the district will have no choice but to lay off even more teachers.
In other words, this time next year, the people whose jobs were "saved" through wage concessions will get pink slips, and we will all end up doing even more work for less money.
Wage concessions are a slippery slope. I would vote for wage concessions if our community had shown itself willing to give us an extra 64 cents per day to support the schools and cushion the devastating impact of these cuts. But until the community says "yes", I say "no".
There is another issue that is more of symbolic than practical significance: the Board recently voted to extend the contract of three top-level district administrators (Cindy Galbo, Bill Faraghan, Luz Cázares) for three years at the same level of pay they are receiving now.
While I agree with Dr. Casey and the Board that these three people's hard work and experience are vital to keeping our district running, the symbolism of guaranteeing the assistant superintendents their jobs at their current level of pay for three years at a time when we teachers are being asked to accept a combination of layoffs and pay cuts makes me much less inclined to accept the idea that we have to make wage concessions because "we are all in the same boat". No, we are not all in the same boat, because if we were, the Board would've demanded that our leaders(our district administrators) lead by example and take a pay cut at least equal to the one that we are being asked to take. While the amount of money that would actually be saved by asking each of these four administrators to take a 2% or 3% pay cut over the next three years is small in relation to our budget deficit, the message seems to be that not everybody will be expected to make sacrifices.
So what happens if we say "no"? We have to say "yes", don't we? It will be a disaster if we don't say "yes", won't it?
Well, two things will happen if we say "no":
(1) The district will be forced to lay off a lot of people. The cuts in personnel, in other words, will be accelerated. The people who are going to be laid off this year plus the people who are quite likely to be laid off next year will be laid off in one massive wave. The PUSD Board, faced with a budget gap of this size, will have no choice but to do that. Personnel costs are 85% of the district's budget, and everything else has already been cut to the bone.
(2) Many people in Pleasanton are going to be angry with us if we
say "no". But you know what? These are OUR schoolstheirs and oursand the taxpayers of Pleasanton need to take the responsibility that comes with that.
In good years, when we had enough money, the property owners in Pleasanton were more than happy to reap the benefits of higher home values that came from having such a good school system. Now, when times are tough, it seems they can't cut our wages fast enough. In other words, we are expected to sacrifice to keep the school system's rating, and Pleasanton property values, highand the
taxpayers of Pleasanton expect to do nothing and sacrifice not a single penny.
I don't expect to see a parcel tax passed in 2010 if we vote "no" on wage concessions. That means a huge number of layoffs, in effect a big step backwards for the Pleasanton school system. But that big step will just take us where we will be in two or three years anyway, at this rate.
I'm sure all of you are aware of what happens when you put a frog in a pot of cold water on the stove and then turn up the burner: the water heats so slowly the frog doesn't realize he's being boiled alive until it's too late. I see the budget crisis in much the same way: a gradual decline is harder to arrest than a sudden, dramatic one. We need to dramatically focus the attention of the people of Pleasanton on the full extent of this financial crisis, and the best way to do that is to "just say no" to wage concessions.
Make no mistake, voting "no" on wage concessions is a hardball tactic and will take a lot of nerve. 2010-2011 will be a tough school year no matter what we do, and a "no" vote is going to make it even harder. But we need to demonstrate that there is just no way to fairly balance the PUSD budget without a parcel tax, and I expect that after a demonstration of what life is like when the members of the APT stand together and refuse further cuts in our wages, the voters of Pleasanton will pass a parcel tax in 2011 by a comfortable margin. If they don't, then it will be the choice of the people of Pleasanton to consign their once-excellent school district to mediocrity. Their choicenot ours.
There is always the possibility that hardball tactics can backfire, of course. Initially, we will anger many in the community, who will say that we are not putting the interest of the children first. That's nonsense:
how can we attract and retain the best teachers if our jobs pay less for more work? How can a gradually declining school district that is
perpetually starved for cash be "good for the children"?
A veteran teacher once told me the worst mistake he and others made after the Proposition 13 property tax limits passed 30 years ago was to make extraordinary efforts to make sure that the cuts wouldn't be felt, giving the illusion of "business as usual" in California public schools. Doing so enabled voters to think they made the right decision in starving our schools of money, and enshrined Prop 13 as a permanent part of California's finances.
Let's not make that same mistake again. I am more than willing to meet the community part of the way in solving the district's budget problems, but I'm not willing to do all of it. Yes, I voted for the $1,000 salary concession last year and advised other teachers to do so as well, because I wanted the voters to see that we teachers were willing to share the burden to fix our district's problems. Perhaps we were asked to take on too large a share of the burden, but we weren't asked to take it all on.
Now we are being asked, one way or another, to shoulder the entire burden of balancing the district's budget. It's fundamentally unfair andpolitically unwise to do so. That's why I am asking you to "just say NO" to wage concessions.
And once again, my apologies for sending this out via a mass email to all teachers through First Class. I do hope that you will vote your conscience and do whatever you think is best for the future of our schools, our union, and our profession, and that after the vote is over,we can work together to get through these difficult times as best we can.
Daniel Bradford, MLS
Librarian, Foothill High School