Your CUTA bargaining team and the District met for negotiations on Thursday, February 11. We focused on writing contract language for all-day kindergarten, and we reviewed the basic principles of interest based bargaining in preparation for discussing compensation over the next several bargaining sessions. In addition, the District was able to share good news in regards to potential layoffs for next year.
Even before all of the disruption associated with the pandemic, there was a very real possibility that Chico Unified would be facing declining student enrollment. Since the Camp Fire, long-term enrollment numbers have been very hard to predict. The formula the District previously used to anticipate future changes in enrollment (3-year rolling averages) does not work currently because of the large swings in enrollment we have faced. Overall, California is seeing a measurable decrease in population. Although it’s hard to predict what Chico Unified enrollment will be in the fall, we have lost a substantial number of students this year. Whether or not they will return when things “go back to normal” is not a question we can answer.
Because of this, the District is being necessarily cautious with its predicted enrollment for the fall. Since state funding is tied so closely to enrollment and attendance, it is possible that we will be significantly overstaffed this fall. Additionally, despite the declining enrollment this year, the District had to hire more teachers to staff newly needed positions at Oak Bridge and in online site-based classes. Normally, this would require layoffs of permanent teachers, in addition to laying off temporary teachers.
The District recognizes the devastating impact layoffs have on employees and their families. To protect its employees, the District crafted a plan to use some of the one-time revenue flowing into Chico Unified to maintain its current permanent staff with the lower class sizes many of us are experiencing. By utilizing these one-time dollars and allowing for natural attrition through retirement this year and next, the District believes they can avoid layoffs of permanent teachers. They presented this plan to the School Board, who voted unanimously to follow this approach.
CUTA thanks the District for this employee-focused approach. Unfortunately, temporary teachers will face layoffs, but the District may still reach out to rehire temporary teachers who are laid off. The enrollment figures for fall are such a mystery that it is hard to predict how many teachers will be needed to staff appropriately.
Article 11: Assignment, Reassignment & Transfer
We spent some time working on clearing up the language in Article 11, which governs the circumstances for when and how teachers can be reassigned or transferred. There was confusion in interpreting some of the contract language because the words position and assignment were not clearly defined.
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.
As we reach the final year for the implementation of all-day kindergarten, we met with a large group of kindergarten teachers during last week’s district wide staff development day to get input on the current all-day K practices based on our existing MOU. Prior to this meeting, our discussions in bargaining indicated that the District was fine with much of the existing MOU language.
One issue for the District was the delayed start language, which states, in essence, that the default all-day K schedule will be two weeks of student half-days to start the school year unless a site administrator and site K teachers mutually agree to something different. The District has fielded many parent complaints about delayed start because it can put families in a difficult childcare position.
In response to parent complaints, the District offered child care in the afternoons at sites with a delayed start last year. At times, this childcare was provided in the K teachers’ rooms. Some K teachers felt this did not honor the spirit of the MOU, because they felt the delayed start was developmentally appropriate. Members from other sites where delayed start has been a long time practice said that parents simply know to expect that schedule since it is part of the “culture” of the school.
In any event, the District agreed to include the delayed start language in our proposed contract language. This is an example of the District listening to its teachers. No matter the good intent behind delayed start, it generates parent complaints. The District is hyper aware that parents have choices these days and to retain students we need to treat our parents like consumers to some degree. They are uncomfortable with delayed start, but they agreed to honor the kindergarten teachers’ wishes. They will also continue to offer childcare to parents who need or request it during delayed start,
The proposed contract language for all-day K will go in two places in the contract: there will be some language in Article 6: Hours, and there will be some language in a brief, new article for kindergarten.
Remote SBAC Testing
We have received questions from several members teaching online sections about the SBAC testing document we have to sign annually that states, in effect, that we will maintain a secure testing environment. Online teachers rightfully pointed out that there is no way to guarantee a secure environment if the child is taking the test at home. The District agrees that the situation is far from ideal, and CUTA will be generating a list of frequently asked questions for the District to respond to in order to alleviate teacher concerns about liability in the unique testing circumstances this year. Conducting state testing this year is a decision made by the state, not the District.
We have agreed to spend half of our upcoming February 24 bargaining session to begin a longer compensation discussion. We are in a peculiar spot. The District has experienced serious declining enrollment this year, and they have conservatively projected more lost students for next year. Nobody really knows what enrollment will look like in the fall. Will missing students return? The District has tracked a number of students who have left, and many have left the area or even state. On the other hand, the governor’s proposed budget has an increase of 3.84% for districts, and there is a lot of one-time money flowing into the District. We’ll spend time on February 24 using interest based bargaining to develop compensation ideas.
Interest Based Bargaining
If you’ll permit me a short history lesson on the relationship between CUTA and the District, I want to recall why we began to use interest based bargaining in Chico Unified. Six or seven years ago, the relationship between CUTA and the District was at a low point. We had engaged in traditional bargaining for many years, and the results were often unproductive. The relationship was combative and not transparent. In a bruising bargaining year, we came very close to going on strike before settling on a deal in the eleventh hour that left neither side particularly happy.
The School Board at the time suggested that we try interest based bargaining (IBB) as a way to improve our working relationship, and although both sides were dubious, we agreed to try it out. We were trained by experienced negotiators who taught us the principles of IBB. It made an immediate difference. IBB emphasizes several key concepts: finding shared interests on negotiable topics, developing trust between the teams, being able to discuss any negotiable topics instead of being limited only to articles officially “opened” for negotiations each year, and being able to freely offer options and possibilities without the fear of being accused of regressive bargaining.
Although we have fairly stable negotiating teams, there has been some turnover. We had one refresher training course two years ago, and we reviewed the basic principles again during this most recent session. We have made the process our own in many ways, but we want to use the more formal process for beginning the compensation discussion. In short, the process involves identifying an issue--compensation, in this case--establishing shared interests--for example, attracting and retaining high quality teachers, maintaining a fiscally sound school district, etc.--brainstorming as many options as possible, and then engaging in an open, honest, and frank discussion towards an option or combination of options that works for both parties.
CUTA and the District have been willing and collaborative partners over the last six or seven years. Despite the fact that the last eleven months have been grueling in many ways, we look forward to continuing our work together to keep Chico Unified a great place for educators, students, and families.
Thank you for taking the time to stay informed. If you’d like to look at the contract, the link is here.
Chico Unified Teachers Association
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Mary Schoenthaler serves as Vice President and Public Relations Chair for CUTA.