About this site

I was a Governing Board Member of the San Carlos School District, elected November 2007 and again in November 2011. This site was originally used for the purpose of communicating with school district constituents, however now it is used for surfacing ideas and expressing opinions on various subjects in education, politics, business, or otherwise.

Please note that any opinion express here is purely personal and does not necessarily reflect the position or opinion of anyone else or any organization with which I am, or have been, associated.

I will not accept anonymous comments, and all persons who post comments must have a valid e-mail address. Note that I reserve the right to edit, reject, or delete posts based on spelling, grammar, readability, or my judgment of what is appropriate discourse.

 

October 2014
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Teacher Contract Approved, Barely

At Thursday’s board meeting, the Board voted 3-2 to approve the new contract with the San Carlos Teachers Association (SCTA). This agreement included a 2% raise in the salary schedule as well as increased contributions to health benefits. Although the agreement was approved, every single board member expressed serious frustration at how the negotiating process went this year and the lack of constructive engagement by the bargaining unit. Rather than try to summarize everyone’s comments, I invite folks to watch the video of this agenda item (the discussion is about 20 minutes long — from approximately 13:44 – 34:20 on the recording), as I think there were very thoughtful comments by all board members. There was also an article today in the San Mateo Daily Journal giving a brief summary of the item.

Below I have included a transcript of my own remarks:

This is my seventh year going through the negotiating process, and I must admit it always felt like one of the strangest parts of the job, and certainly the most anachronistic. There are plenty of folks out there who are just stunned when we learn that in the 21st century, we still have this incredibly old framework for managing how our employees work and how much they get paid. Particularly in a context where otherwise we think of our staff members as professionals, it’s odd that we revert to this old factory-worker mentality for this large subset of important issues.

There’s no doubt that teachers need to get paid more. Our teachers do amazing work in this district, and I’m certain my colleagues on the board all agree that teachers are fundamentally underpaid. I’m sure most parents would agree with that too. I wish we could do something more dramatic about that, but we all know that we have so little control over our funding, and that the state had systematically underfunded education for decades. We strive to do the best we can, and supporting SCEF and putting multiple parcel taxes on the ballot gives us a little more breathing room. Is it enough? Of course, not.

But then it would be flawed logic to conclude that this District or this Board does not care deeply about its teachers or does not understand the criticality of a great teaching staff on students. Does anyone think that these five people sitting up here volunteer thousands of hours of their time because they don’t value teachers? Does the fact that our teachers get paid toward the top end of the scale of Revenue Limit districts in this county mean we don’t care about teachers? Or is more likely that making these decisions is quite difficult and complex, and that there are a lot of competing needs that need to be weighed, all under the cloud of continued financial uncertainty? Is it possible that we understand that with limited resources we cannot fully fund everything we would like?

There are many flaws in this collective bargaining process that we are required to undertake. The first is the obvious one — the assumption that the same compensation scheme and work rules would be right for everyone. I recognize this would be a challenge to change, but perhaps one day we will be able to treat our employees as individual professionals with individual needs and customized responsibilities. The second, less obvious, flaw is the application of a private sector “zero-sum” framework. In the case where the UAW is negotiating with General Motors, for example, the union may make a reasonable assumption that any money not captured by the bargaining unit goes back to the company, and hence would eventually flow to “management” or to shareholders. We don’t have this dynamic, yet the underlying assumptions and rhetoric are often similar. If the District “saves” money by not spending it on teacher salaries, for example, it’s not as if another group gets richer because of it. Rather, by definition, that same money goes right back into services for students — maybe not in the same year, but eventually it must. There is no “profit” taken out by anyone and there is no management windfall achieved by cost savings. And since 80% of our spending goes toward personnel, when that money is eventually spent it will go back to supporting our staff — maybe in not the exact same way that everyone wants, but supporting our teachers and our students nonetheless. The last flaw is the century-old assumption that the way to advance your cause is to “put pressure” on the board, rally the troops, and rally parents to your cause. I would think that we all would have learned that in 2014 in San Carlos, this technique is actually counterproductive. I suspect this administration — and I’m sure this Board — responds more positively to constructive engagement than to pressure.

In these seven years, we’ve had some more difficult and some easier ones with respect to negotiating. As you recall, we had years when we had to cut salaries because our own funding was cut so dramatically. We are fortunately not in that situation today, but as we all know, San Carlos was not a beneficiary of the new Local Control Funding Formula. Funding will continue to be very tight for many years — that is our sad reality. This is why it is crucial we renew and/or increase our parcel tax and we do everything we can to support SCEF growing.

I understand that Dr. Baker and the SCTA leads are discussing making changes in our process as well as the potential representatives on both sides of the table. I look forward to seeing such changes, but until such time, I can’t support such agreements and will vote no on this contract.

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