Your CUTA bargaining team and the District met for negotiations on Wednesday, February 27. We had a long agenda, and we had a productive discussion on all of the agenda items.
Kevin Moretti, your CUTA president, began the session by sharing information about a District-led meeting to look for solutions to the problem of student violence against teachers in the classroom. Although this is not a widespread problem, it does occur, and CUTA and the District both share an interest in helping teachers in this situation. The meeting included both data and information gathering and brainstorming, and Kevin felt it was very productive as a first step.
We moved on to asking clarifying questions about current RSP class sizes and about how elementary RSP teachers provide intervention support for non-RSP students. We plan to meet with elementary RSP teachers to gather input. Diane Olsen will be joining our next session to continue this discussion, as well as to discuss caseloads and class sizes for all other special education teachers. CUTA has an interest in clarifying the caseloads and class sizes for non-RSP special education teachers and in understanding how and when special education teachers receive extra support in their classrooms. We also have an interest in having a class size maximum for RSP teachers.
Next on the agenda, we discussed a way to streamline the process for CUTA to meet with new employees hired in the middle of the year. Currently, Kevin meets with newly hired teachers before the school year begins to share information about the union. It is more challenging to meet with teachers hired during the school year. The District plans to schedule a monthly meeting for any new hires during that month to meet with Kevin. This is another example of positive cooperation between the District and CUTA. We appreciate that cooperation very much.
Short-term independent study continues to generate questions from members. At our last session, the District said that short-term independent study would be for absences from 5-10 days long. In exceptional circumstances, short-term independent study could be granted for up to 15 days. We discussed what would constitute an “exceptional circumstance”. The District has now provided packet work for up to 10 days for elementary, middle and high school. We asked for the District to provide an additional 5 days of packet work for elementary, middle and high school, if they plan to grant 15 days, even if it will only be granted occasionally.
Our next topic was elementary assessment. We have heard concerns about assessment from elementary teachers for a long time, and we have struggled to find a way to address it with the District. Oftentimes, the District hears the opposite from elementary teachers. They hear from teachers who say they value all or most of the assessments and don’t want to get rid of any. We decided to try to get some actual data to work with, and we focused on TK-2 teachers as a starting point. We created and sent out a survey to all TK-2 teachers (roughly 125 people) which asked them to rate each assessment as one of the following: informative to parents, informative to teachers, both, neither, or not applicable (assessment not used in that grade level). We have received 78 responses. We are hesitant to draw ironclad conclusions from the results for several reasons. For one, almost 50 teachers didn’t respond. For another, we are not expert survey designers; it’s possible that our rating system for assessments doesn’t fully capture teacher concerns.
With that caveat, the data shows that the vast majority of assessments used in TK-2 were rated by a strong majority of responding teachers as valuable to parents, teachers or both. The exceptions to this were the I-Ready reading and math diagnostics and the CCSS math and ELA assessments. These four assessments were rated as valuable to parents, teachers, or both by 55-65% of respondents. About 35-45% of respondents rated these four assessments as valuable to neither parents nor teachers. In essence, even these less popular assessments still showed support from a majority of responding teachers.
We also received 42 written comments of which some were quite detailed. One unifying concern through the written comments was that there simply wasn’t enough time to complete the assessments, valuable though they may be. There were also more specific concerns. We are combing through these comments to try to find common concerns about the timing and frequency of specific assessments.
This leaves us in a challenging situation. In some ways, it seems like what we thought teachers were saying and what the District thought teachers were saying were both correct. Teachers are concerned about assessments, although they generally value the data gathered from the menu of assessments. What they are concerned about is time: both the time needed to give and score the assessments and the time lost for instruction. Creating time is hard. Even if the District was willing to provide more prep time or sub days to handle assessment, teachers would still be losing classroom time with their students. Our next step is to go through the notes and information gathered from the DLC-led conversations at sites. We will continue working on this issue.
We moved on to discuss the possibility of establishing an end time for called meeting time. Currently, a member can be asked to attend up to eight hours of called meeting time each month with a limit of sixty hours in a school year, and called meeting time must begin within fifteen minutes of the end of the student day. The District-wide staff development days, Back to School Night, and Open House are exceptions to the start time rule. There is nothing in the contract about when called meeting time needs to end. CUTA suggested capping called meeting time at 90 minutes, and the District is considering the idea. This would apply only to District called meeting time. IEPs are not called by the District; they are federally mandated meetings.
Several members have asked about the process for when a new student enters a classroom midyear. The District shared that administrators and office staff try to give advance notice to teachers, especially elementary teachers, so that teachers can be prepared to welcome the new student, but that there can be exceptions. Administrators and office staff will always recommend that the child start on the following day so that teachers can be informed, but in certain situations, the child will start attending on the spot. Legally, if a student is homeless, the District must enroll the student on the spot and allow them to begin attending school immediately. Additionally, if a family is insistent that their child enter the classroom right away, the school is going to allow it.
Based on a request from a member at Chico High, CUTA asked for the District to consider adding girls wrestling as a sport eligible for a coaching stipend. The District will go to the School Board with the request. Like other sports, there will have to be a minimum number of participants, or the sport would have club status. If the Board agrees to add girls wrestling, we will explore what category of coaching stipends it will fall under.
We also shared with the District concerns that have been raised by band and drama teachers at the high school level. In order to put on performances and concerts, the teachers have to do a large amount of fundraising in order to be able to pay members of the community for key tasks such choreography, costume and set design, and many more. Some of our band and drama teachers asked for these extra task positions to be stipended to relieve some of the fundraising duties. The District expressed an understanding of the large amount of work and an appreciation for the high quality of the performances, but they said that with the large increases in compensation, they are not able to add to the budget currently. In fact, they are looking to make cuts in the budget to make sure they stay fiscally sound. To be fair to the District, CUTA encouraged the District to repurpose dollars to pay for our raises. The concerns raised by the band and drama teachers are an example of a worthy cause that can’t be addressed right now because of our generous increase in compensation.
We also discussed the future of the MAA program. It’s possible that MAA dollars may eventually begin to flow into the District again. Currently, the District is in the process of paying off a penalty to the MAA program, but after that penalty has been settled, CUTA and the District share an interest in deciding how to allocate those potential future MAA dollars. The contract says that members eligible to be MAA reporters will receive 50% of the MAA dollars received by the District. The contract also says that CUTA will encourage eligible members to participate, but members are not required to. The District has expressed an interest in seeing those dollars spent on students. CUTA suggested setting up committees of eligible MAA reporters (nurses, speech therapists, and special education teachers) who could decide on how to spend the MAA dollars on bigger budget items in their departments. Some members have said they would prefer to simply receive the money as personal compensation. CUTA suggested to the District that if these members had access to 100% of the MAA dollars to spend on department needs, instead of just 50%, they might be more interested in this approach. The District is considering that option, and CUTA will be checking with its members. This is still all theoretical, because nobody knows if MAA dollars will actually return to the District.
We also discussed the process for providing schoolwork to students who are on in-school suspension (ISS). Teachers may provide work for the student at the time of the suspension and hold the student accountable for the work when the student returns to the classroom, or teachers may give the student the work when they return and give the same number of days as the suspension length for the student to make up the work. There have been issues with students being able to use Chromebooks when on ISS, and Andrew Moll, the administrator a Fairview, will join us at a future session to iron out the situation.
Lastly, we discussed when the responsibility for lesson planning shifts from the teacher to the sub when a teacher goes on medical leave. The short answer is that lesson planning becomes the sub’s responsibility when the sub starts to receive long-term sub pay. The longer answer is that the sub may start to receive long-term sub pay at different times depending on the member’s medical leave. The sub starts to receive long-term sub pay on the eleventh day of subbing for a member on medical leave. If a member knows that he or she will be gone on medical leave for more than ten days, the sub will begin to receive long-term sub pay on day one of the leave and is responsible for lesson planning from the beginning. If a member doesn’t know how long his or her leave is going to be, the member is responsible for lesson planning until the eleventh day.
We are scheduled to meet with the District next on Wednesday, March 13. If you have questions, please feel free to email me. If you’d like to look over our contract, you can find it here, which is on our website: chicouta.org.
Thank you for taking the time to stay informed.
Chico Unified Teachers Association
Mary Schoenthaler serves as Vice President and Public Relations Chair for CUTA.