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.