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San Diego Unified teacher writes letter to Union Leader…

June 16, 2011

Emily Alpert has a good piece in the Voice of San Diego.  It is a letter sent from a SDUSD teacher to union leader Bill Freeman.  I am in the middle on this one, though this teacher, Sarah Mathy, makes some excellent points.  I understand both sides of the issue, teachers with less seniority don’t want to be laid off, teachers with more seniority don’t want to lose income.  But the veteran teachers should think about the difficult teaching environment that they will have now with all of the newly laid off teachers out of the classrooms.  Student size/teacher ratios will go up greatly.  On the other hand, SDUSD is already one of the lowest paid districts in the area.  It is a conundrum to say the least.

The big battle in San Diego Unified right now is whether to tear up pink slips for teachers and other school workers. The school board has pressed its unions to take more unpaid leave and put off promised raises, saying it could then afford to spare some jobs in the long-term.

The teachers union turned down that proposal last week, arguing it was an unnecessary concession that tried to pit teachers against one another. Almost all teachers that I’ve heard from loathe the idea, saying that San Diego Unified can just cancel the layoffs now that state financial projections have improved.

So I was intrigued to get this email from Sarah Mathy, a pink-slipped teacher who says the union is protecting senior members at the expense of junior ones. It’s a letter that she sent earlier this month to Bill Freeman, the president of the San Diego Education Association. (That’s abbreviated in the letter as SDEA.)

We often hear this debate between politicians. But how does this debate play out between teachers? I’ve asked Freeman to write back and he said he planned to do so. I’ll post his letter when we get it.

Dear Mr. Freeman –

In early March, I emailed you to discuss my feelings about how the union could best act during this layoff process. You generously came to my school to meet with many of us on the day we received our first layoff notice. I appreciate your time and interest in our school and in us.

In March, I was asking you to negotiate with SDUSD so that many (all?) of the layoffs could be avoided. I called for things such as extra furlough days and opening the health benefits package negotiation. I wanted our union to get creative about the endless possibilities for solving this problem so that jobs are saved and kids are served.

But so far, all I have received are layoff notices #1 and #2 from SDUSD, and emails from SDEA calling me to more action and more rallies.

This is not what I want.

And the unspoken but clear message being sent to me from SDEA is that you are a union that wants to prioritize the interests of the senior, not junior, members. That when SDEA is not “winning” the battles with SDUSD, it will put the junior members out in the name of protecting the senior.

All along, it has seemed like a very logical fix to me to negotiate with SDUSD so that the weight of this budget crises is distributed on the shoulders of all SDEA teachers, not just on a few hundred. That is solidarity. That is “together we are stronger.” I feel instead like SDEA’s hostage and not SDUSD’s (as you mentioned in a recent SDEA email blast).

So the questions become: “WHO is SDEA working for?” and “WHAT is SDEA working for?” Unfortunately for my situation, the WHO seems to be the senior members, and the WHAT is status quo for salary and benefits for those who will remain.

That will not work in this current fiscal crisis. You need to negotiate with SDUSD and launch a campaign to convince SDEA members that this is the best option.

I don’t think you will have as much opposition to a contract re-negotiation as you may think. Many of my SDEA colleagues unaffected by layoff notices believe in some form of contract modifications so that we all can have our jobs. It will then be your work to collaborate with SDUSD and SDEA teachers to find a compromise that works for everyone. It is not black and white. There are gray areas of the contract where you can slide the scale and still have people satisfied with their level of pay and benefits, and pleased with their lowered class sizes and staff stability at work, and, as taxpayers, happy that the students are getting what they deserve.

We work in a dynamic profession with multi-faceted students, and I want my union to mirror that. With some salary or benefits alterations, we can all keep the jobs we love to do, live comfortably and take care of our families, and make sure that students get the most of everything. This has to be an AND situation, not EITHER/OR.

So I trust that with the same confidence and care with which you engaged my concerns in March, that you move SDEA into a new chapter where we can feel more like brothers and sisters, instead of the haves and have-nots.

Thank you for your continued work.

Sincerely,
SARAH MATHY
Teacher for 6 years at Central Elementary

Teachers, what do you think? Do you agree with Mathy?

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