Your CUTA bargaining team and the District met for negotiations on Wednesday, March 24. We continued to discuss possible models for compensation, we reviewed the MOU governing a full reopening of schools in order to be prepared for any future School Board decisions, and we started to evaluate how our existing MOUs for our Covid-impacted instructional models will have to be modified for the academic year beginning in fall 2021.
We spent the morning clarifying and narrowing our list of possible compensation options. CUTA has an interest in looking at one-time money for compensation for the current school year, since we recognize that the District received no new ongoing dollars. Additionally, we believe a multi-year wage agreement for next year and beyond is the best approach. The projected increases in ongoing dollars to the District budget over the next several years are small, so CUTA also has an interest in several low-cost items related to compensation.
Additionally, E-Board has directed the bargaining team to make a final collapse of the salary schedule a compensation priority. This final proposed collapse would make the salary schedule steps between years 20 and 29 uniform two-year steps so there would be no more three-year freezes. The salary schedule would still end at Year 31. The cost to achieve this is equivalent to roughly 0.6% on the salary schedule.
The District will begin discussing compensation with the School Board at the meeting scheduled for April 7. In a normal year, these discussions would have started much sooner, but this has been anything but a normal year. CUTA appreciates that the District is making this a priority with the Board.
Potential Full Reopening This Year
Changes to the California mandated social distancing of four feet in schools were made suddenly towards the end of spring break. After the CDC reduced their guidelines from six feet to three feet, California reduced its mandate of four feet to a simple recommendation of three feet. In other words, schools could legally open even if they couldn’t meet the three feet recommendation for social distancing.
The School Board will meet on April 7 to decide whether to reopen schools for all students, all day, for the remainder of this school year. They have asked the District to prepare a list of pros and cons. CUTA will be surveying its members once again. Sharing your detailed thoughts in the comments section is the most useful way to get your opinion to the School Board members. Kevin Moretti, our president, will give them a printout of all the comments, although your name won’t be attached.
If the School Board decides to send all students back to school, we have an MOU in place that would govern scheduling, cleaning, and safety protocols. Enhanced cleaning will still be in place. Facial coverings will still be required. Your school will return to its pre-Covid bell schedule with all waivers intact. In elementary school, the students will leave 30 minutes before the pre-Covid end of the student day to provide 30 minutes of prep each day. Prep time providers will continue to provide virtual lessons supervised by the classroom teacher. If an elementary teacher is assigned to an online-only class, they would follow the schedule from our first online-only MOU, which includes 180 contiguous minutes of synchronous instruction and 60 minutes of asynchronous instruction. The District can direct the teacher when to complete the 180 minutes within the bell schedule. In secondary, teachers with online sections would continue to teach them. Schedule changes are not anticipated at secondary.
CUTA is aware that this potential full reopening would lead to some teacher changes for students in elementary school. Until the District finds out how many students will return from site-based online instruction, it is unknown how many students will end up with a different teacher. CUTA sees this as a major con for full reopening in April. Please share the pros and cons, as you see them, in the comments section of the survey Kevin sends out. He is sending out separate surveys to elementary and secondary members.
State Testing Waiver
California has applied to the federal government for a state testing waiver. If that waiver is approved, K-8 students will not be taking the SBAC test this year in Chico Unified. Instead, students would take an approved replacement test such as the I-Ready diagnostic or the STAR reading test. CUTA is unclear about how this would impact the status of the state science tests. Additionally, the District does not have access to an approved replacement for 11th graders, so even if the waiver is approved, 11th graders will still be taking the SBAC. Until the waiver is approved, school sites need to prepare as if they are going to administer the state tests.
Reopening in August
Although it is impossible to predict for sure, the current trajectory suggests that we will return to school in August with all of our students on campus with a regular schedule. We are spending time updating, refining, and clarifying our three MOUs so that we can be ready for any situation that arises in the fall. We are focusing primarily on the “Traditional Model with Safety Protocols” MOU. If all students returned to school in April, this MOU would be in use. There are areas that need addressing before a return in August.
For example, in August, it is most likely that elementary teachers would return to a regular bell schedule with prep being delivered as it has in the past. We’ll update that in the MOU. We will also have to update some of the cleaning and air filtration protocols to reflect best practices and the changing situation. The current MOU calls for MERV-13 filters in all classroom and work spaces. That is problematic in school-based HVAC systems. Although MERV-13s have greater filtration capacity, they significantly decrease the air flow in classrooms because the HVAC systems were not designed for them. Additionally, they have to be custom ordered and are very prone to supply chain failure. MERV-11 filters also have good filtration capabilities and allow for improved air flow in older HVAC systems. We will be updating the MOU to reflect this change. The District will continue to clean and disinfect classrooms, and they will continue to provide hand sanitizer in all classrooms and other current locations.
Although I really hope we don’t have to go back to an AM/PM model or to online-only instruction, we are refining and updating those MOUs as well so that we are ready for any situation during the 2021-22 school year.
Thank you for taking the time to stay informed. If you’d like to look at our contract, here is the link.
Chico Unified Teachers Association
Your CUTA bargaining team and the District met for negotiations on Thursday, March 11. We spent the morning discussing and clarifying possible options for a compensation agreement. In the afternoon, we covered a range of issues, including a visit from our non-Covid, regular online independent study teachers, who had questions about the MOU governing their caseload.
As we began the interest-based bargaining (IBB) process two weeks ago to negotiate compensation, we brainstormed sixty potential ideas. We added a few more ideas on Thursday, before spending time asking clarifying questions about the options. We then started to narrow the list down by removing ideas that were repetitive, impossible for legal reasons, or simply not great ideas. In this process of winnowing in IBB, only the person who suggested the original option can ask to have it struck from the list.
As we worked through the list, CUTA expressed an interest in a multi-year wage agreement. Establishing an expected schedule for wage increases means the energy and focus of the negotiating teams can be on all the other contractual items that help keep the District running smoothly. Additionally, with a known schedule of wage increases, members can focus on their jobs without wondering what may be coming.
Realistically, we have to be aware that if we are able to come to a multi-year agreement, it will not be nearly as substantial as the three-year wage agreement we just finished. There simply is much less ongoing money coming into the District. Additionally, the District has a very real and reasonable concern about declining enrollment. Recognizing that a multi-year agreement would likely have much smaller ongoing raises, CUTA has also shared an interest in addressing small areas of compensation, like paying for BTSA in full for new teachers. These smaller, targeted items are issues that have been brought to us by members over the past several years that we would like to address.
Our discussions will continue. Since we are limited to agreements with a maximum length of three years, it’s possible that we will settle on a one-year tentative agreement (TA) for this year, 2020-21, since our attempts to negotiate a TA in 2020 were derailed by the pandemic and the need to work extensively on MOUs to govern our working conditions. We would then be free to complete a three-year deal for the academic years 2021-22 through 2023-24.
Other Issues Discussed
The District is using one-time dollars to staff next year at smaller class sizes as part of the plan to address learning loss, to avoid layoffs, and to meet the requirements for four feet of social distancing, which may or may not still be in place this fall. These smaller class sizes will not be contractual, and there will be variability across sites depending on many factors including the physical size of classrooms and specific student needs for certain classes. CUTA appreciates the District’s use of these one-time dollars in this way.
The District is hopeful that there will not be a need for significant numbers of involuntary transfers to staff appropriately, but there will almost certainly have to be some shifting. Until the District has a firmer sense of enrollment numbers for the fall, they can’t be sure.
Between vaccinations and dropping case counts, the pandemic seems to be heading in the right direction. Ultimately, it’s impossible to be sure what safety mandates will be in place this fall. CUTA and the District share an interest in updating the three MOUs we currently have in place for online-only learning, the AM/PM schedule, and full in-person instruction with safety protocols so that we are ready for anything. All indications suggest that we will have all of our students back on campus this fall, but we need to be ready if something changes suddenly. We will work on updating those MOUs, and members will vote on them again.
Items for the Next TA
There are two specific items currently governed by MOUs that we have agreed to put in the next TA to be added to the contract. The first has to do with member rights for voluntary transfer. As in the existing contract language, members have a right to be considered for internal openings in the District before external candidates are considered. This new language describes the required process. Members interested in an internal opening must respond by email to the District email announcing the opening. The applicable administrator must respond in writing to interested members. Concurrently, the District may list the opening on EdJoin, but administrators do not have access to the list of external candidates until all internal candidates have been considered. If the administrator does not contact the interested member on the appropriate timeline, the member is entitled to $250. When there is an internal opening, the District will have to hire an external candidate eventually, though it may be for a different position if there is internal movement first. By allowing the District to begin to gather a private list of external candidates immediately, there is a better chance that they will get a good candidate to join the District. This language would go in Article 11. Our previous contract language governing this process was much weaker. Both sides are getting something they need with this new language.
We also cleared up contract language referring to position and assignment in Article 11. For purposes of reassignment and transfer we have agreed in principle that position is the more general description of your current job and assignment is more specific. For example, your position may be a math teacher at PV or an elementary school teacher at Marigold. On the other hand, your assignment would be the actual sections you are assigned to teach at PV or your actual grade level at Marigold. This is important because it clarifies how your job could change during the school year. You can only be involuntarily reassigned within the school year because of declining enrollment that necessitates the collapsing of classes. Changing grade levels or teaching an entirely different prep at the secondary level would constitute a reassignment.
Additionally, we added language that a member reassigned within two weeks prior to the start of the school year, resulting in a different grade level assignment (elementary) or a new prep (secondary), shall receive two days’ pay for the added work. We also defined return rights for members in Chico Unified School District grant funded positions. Return rights last for 12 months for members in these positions. Previously, members had unlimited return rights. The unlimited return rights are grandfathered in for members currently in Chico Unified School District grant funded positions.
We have an agreement in place for an MOU to pay junior high cross-country coaches a stipend of $1,000. The District would like to experiment with adding low-cost sports at the junior high schools, and they are starting with cross country. Only one of the cross-country teams at our junior high schools is coached by a member. The others have walk-on coaches currently.
Lastly, our regular, non-Covid online independent study teachers joined us because they had questions about the MOU governing their caseload. It’s a good thing they were paying attention, because we are 90% sure that we made a mistake when we signed updated MOUs for this school year and accidentally signed a previous version of their MOU. Using MOUs to try out new ideas has been a terrific part of the IBB process. Both sides can see if they are comfortable with contract language before officially enshrining it in the contract. However, in this case, the large numbers of MOUs may have led to confusion. We are working to rectify the situation and will also be looking at ways to further ensure that we keep all of our MOUs up to date and accurate.
The online teachers also shared why they feel that their caseload is too high. Under the correct MOU, they have a caseload of 50. They made the argument that they are doing the same job as Oak Bridge teachers and using the same curriculum, yet Oak Bridge teachers have a caseload of 40. It was a good argument, and we will continue to discuss it with the District.
In a spectacularly trying year, I hope you all get a chance to relax and decompress over spring break. Thank you for taking the time to stay informed. If you’d like to look at our contract, you can find it here. The link also has most of our existing MOUs and waivers if you are interested.
Chico Unified Teachers Association
Mary Schoenthaler serves as Vice President and Public Relations Chair for CUTA.