Transparency is lost in the San Dieguito teachers’ contract

As predicted, after San Dieguito Union High School District supt. Rick Schmitt postponed the vote for a week to give the public extra time to review the new teacher contract, his effort was undermined by the San Dieguito Faculty Association.

Led by union president Bob Croft, the SDFA delayed its vote to approve the contract, also for one week.

Because the district refused to permit the public to see the tentative agreement until the union had voted to approve it – and because the union did not give its final approval until the night before the (rescheduled) Dec. 17 board vote – the public had less than 24 hours to see the contract.

So the delay on the vote was pointless. And, as expected, the contract was approved Dec. 17 by a vote of 3-2.

California Government Code section 3547 states that “meeting and negotiating shall not take place on any proposal until a reasonable time has elapsed after the submission of the proposal to enable the public to become informed, and the public has the opportunity to express itself regarding the proposal at a meeting of the public school employer.”

No reasonable person can credibly argue that the district gave the public sufficient time to review the complicated contract, when it was posted at 9 p.m. ahead of a 4 p.m. board meeting the very next day.

I asked Croft why he delayed the SDFA vote. Doing so makes it appear there’s something to hide.

Croft offered this justification: “With the district deciding on the delay – not SDFA – why wouldn’t SDFA then want to take advantage of that opportunity to ensure our membership had additional time to submit their ballots?”

He added that the union’s delay “is simply SDFA working to meet the needs of our members.”

The only thing transparent about this process is the excuse that SDFA members needed additional time to review their contract.

What’s not to like? The 2015-2018 contract provides:

•A 7-percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2015, for the 2015-2016 school year

•A 5.5-percent raise for 2016-2017

•An increase in salary of $1,000 to all teachers for the English Learner credential

•A shift into salary of about $11,000 from a health care flex spending account

•Language that states the district’s teachers must be the highest paid in the county

Croft signed the agreement on behalf of SDFA, and in an SDFA bulletin, sent to all SDUHSD teachers, he crowed about the agreement: “This is the LARGEST two-year raise in all of San Diego County! With this increase, our members are easily the #1 paid in San Diego County, using every comparable category!” [bold, caps and exclamation points reproduced directly from Croft’s bulletin]

In a story in this newspaper published last month, Schmitt said delaying the vote for one week did indeed give the public adequate time for review.

In an interview last week, Schmitt said the only legal requirement was to disclose the tentative collective bargaining agreement under the provisions of Assembly Bill 1200.

AB 1200 requires districts to make public the major provisions of the proposed agreement. This includes a cost analysis and fiscal impact on the operating budget.

Schmitt says the district fulfilled this requirement by posting the disclosure in the board’s agenda packet on Dec. 4.

He is making a distinction between the fiscal impacts of the contract (disclosed Dec. 4) and the actual contract (not made public until Dec. 16).

It’s fine to get the district’s perspective on the financial ramifications of the contract, but people should be allowed to see the full contract for themselves rather than take the word of a government agency on what’s important for the public to know.

The bargain

Both the district and the union (Schmitt and Croft) tout how they achieved this agreement through a cooperative process called interest-based bargaining, rather than the adversarial process some other districts use.

“Our new contractual agreement provides the financial security, health benefits, and contractual language stability that our members deserve, and which was achieved without engaging in the adversarial negotiations and counterproductive conflict seen in so many districts,” Croft said.

“The agreement was reached through productive interest-based and collaborative negotiations,” reads the district’s board report.

Because all employees in the district will receive the same raises and benefits that the union negotiated for its teachers, the district and the union would seem to be on the same side of the table, so collaboration would not appear to be a problem.

Representing the district during negotiations were Schmitt and associate superintendents Torrie Norton and Jason Viloria (all of whom benefit from the contract) – and Bob Croft and Adrienne St. George for the faculty association.

It’s reasonable to ask who was negotiating for the taxpayer.

“The school district negotiates for the taxpayer and the community, period,” Schmitt said. “That’s what we do. We’re always looking to get what we think is the best value for the community at the right price.”

Schmitt mentioned the millions of dollars the district spends on textbooks, bond contracts and facilities improvements, as examples.

“I, we, represent the taxpayers in every negotiation we do, whatever the category,” he said.

He said the agreement “provides budget stability,” adding that the community “has supported our employees over the years.”

He said the district has a history of being fiscally conservative, and that there is money to pay for these raises well into the future, based on healthy reserves, conservative assumptions and realistically rosy projections.

Since the deal seems to benefit the teachers overwhelmingly, I was curious to know what the district may have asked for that the union gave up. In other words, what was bargained?

Schmitt would not reveal what SDFA and the district discussed in closed negotiations.

Qualified to serve

A letter to this newspaper published last month from a San Dieguito teacher was critical of my view (and trustee John Salazar’s) that the vote should be delayed to allow the contract to sunshine.

“Sutton has been writing about education for 14 years yet she holds no degrees in education,” he wrote. “Salazar does not come from an education background either other than his B.S. degree in political science.”

Is it the belief of teachers that school board members are not qualified to be trustees unless they hold degrees in education?

Besides being an outlandish suggestion, if that’s the case, then four of the five SDUHSD trustees are not qualified to serve, including two of the three who voted to approve the new contract.

Salazar holds a B.S. in Business, Mo Muir holds a B.A. in political science, Amy Herman has a B.S. in organizational communications, and Beth Hergesheimer’s B.S. is in business administration.

Only Joyce Dalessandro has an educational degree. She has a B.A. in child development and psychology and a Masters in education and curriculum development.

By this faulty logic, Herman and Hergesheimer are also not qualified to serve as trustees.

Incidentally, very few education writers hold degrees in education. I plead guilty. My B.A. is in philosophy from UCLA.

Good times

After the board’s 3-2 vote in favor of the contract, the 200-plus overflow crowd of people in attendance, mostly teachers, were treated to a few moments of the song “Celebrate Good Times” on the speaker system before it was shut off.

“Yes, it was played,” Schmitt said. “What happened is a staff person did that, unbeknownst to any of us.”

“I’m disappointed that that was played; it was out of line,” he said. “It was not anything the school district or the leadership team planned for or endorsed.”

In an unusual decision, one speaker, Bob Croft, was allowed to make a public statement after the vote, in support of the contract. Speakers typically comment before a vote is taken on an action item, during the board’s discussion process of that item.

Schmitt said Croft was not given special treatment and that anyone is allowed to speak after a vote has been recorded.

“Anybody can request that, we’ve done it before,” he said.

Croft is paid a full teacher’s salary but does not teach. The district hires a substitute to teach his physical education classes at Earl Warren Middle School. His full-time job is to serve as head of the San Dieguito Faculty Association and advocate on behalf of teachers.

Flawed process

San Dieguito teachers deserve a new master contract with increased compensation, no argument. However, several issues give one pause: a 12.5 percent raise is rather hefty, the need to be the highest paid in the county is troublesome, class sizes may increase, the district will have to spend down reserves to sustain the raise, and taxpayer interests may not have been fairly represented at the bargaining table.

One may object to one or more of these issues, but what’s most critical is that property owners, taxpayers and parents were denied adequate time to become aware of the tentative agreement and were not given sufficient time to review it.

If constituents had had time to register their objections or support to trustees, then board members would only be accountable for their votes on the deal.

But the three trustees who voted in favor of this agreement – Dalessandro, Hergesheimer and Herman – didn’t just vote for the contract. By approving it the way it was done, they voted for secrecy and against transparency.

It’s one thing to support the contract itself, but quite another to proceed to approve the labor agreement knowing the contents of the contract had essentially been kept hidden.

The district’s response to the failure of timely disclosure has been repeated often: “This is how we’ve always done it.” And: “Other districts do it this way.”

Parents, does this sound familiar? How many times have we heard our kids say that they want to have/buy/do something “because all the other kids” are having/buying/doing it?

Illegal actions by other districts – or a history of doing things the wrong way – carry no weight.

Muir, in her statement after the vote, said, “This process is simply very flawed and unacceptable to me.”

Hergesheimer and Dalessandro are up for re-election in 2016. If they choose to run again, it would be Hergesheimer’s fourth term (she was first elected in 2004) and Dalessandro’s sixth (she was first elected in 1996).

Next week’s column will have details on the cost of annual step-and-column raises, the implications of the transfer of $12,000 in health care benefits into salary, using money in reserves to pay for the raises, the requirement to be the highest paid teachers in the county, and class sizes.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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