Teachers protest management bonuses

School Board redirects payment to school supplies instead

ATASCADERO – Many AUSD Teachers have been making it clear that they want a more competitive salary to retain talented teachers. They are publicly expressing the need for help with school supplies, and on top that, many teachers and parents say classroom sizes are just too large. There were complaints that the state budget has been too low, too long, but most of the dissent was focused on district choices on budget issues — particularly an item that would have given bonuses to district management.

Tuesday evening, teachers, parents and community members showed up holding signs stating intense frustration an hour before the school board met for a closed session.

When the doors opened to the public, the room overflowed with community members, and many spoke against an agenda item that would make a $37,479 one-time, 0.80 percent off-schedule bonus payment to Certificated Management, Classified Management, Confidential/Supervisory employees and Special Services employees for the 2017-18 school year, as well as a $6,582, one-time 0.80 percent off-schedule payment to the Superintendent, the Assistant Superintendent of Business, the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and the Executive Director of Bond Projects/Facilities.

The allocated funding was sourced from “one-time funds,” the result of a tentative agreement (which the Board voted for 7:0), between the District and Atascadero District Teachers Association (ADTA), on Sept. 5, 2017.

Before a heated public comment session began, Butler took the bonus off the table, reading a statement explaining the Board’s immediate decision not to approve the one-time funds. Instead, the district created a new agenda item, recommending redirecting $25,421 of the monies (of the Classified Managers, Certificated Managers, Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents, and Director of Bond Projects’ 0.80 percent) to a school supply reserve instead, which will be distributed on a per-pupil basis. The Board voted to approve the one-time 0.8 percent payment,  for Confidential/Supervisory employees, however, including nine executive assistant employees and Special Services employees (psychologists, nurses, program coordinators, occupational therapists and athletic trainer).

“I’m pleased to report to the Board and our community that the classified and certificated management team, as well as all the superintendents, met recently and had a formal request this evening that their 0.80 percent share be redirected to provide materials at all of our school sites,” Superintendent Tom Butler said. “There was never any intent for any of these misunderstandings,” Butler added, “With that said, we have an amazing family at AUSD. We’re having a little family squabble this evening, but what makes a family great is that we care about each other deeply. I was touched by seeing everyone here this evening. We’ve got to keep caring about each other and supporting each other.”

Butler said his administration will take responsibility for their part in the “squabble,” starting with better communication and understanding of decision processes.

Robin Dery, teacher at Atascadero High School, spoke first at the meeting to address the said “misunderstandings.” She said class size reduction seemed like a shared goal at the time, but now it seems it is not.

Dery asked the board, “Why is it some of this money for one-time compensation went to administration when very clearly it was not available as such to teachers?”

She added that if the money does not go to teachers, it should go to the students.

“Last August, a team of ADTA [Atascadero District Teachers Association] and district negotiators got together for an interest-based bargaining session. There were one-time funds available and the administration made it very clear that the money was not for additional compensation of any kind. Instead, the meeting posted a list of shared priorities from both the district office and ADTA. Both sides agreed class size reduction was a mutual goal, to provide a better environment for our younger students and attract more families to our district. As a result the district used part of the one-time monies to hire two additional primary teachers,” Dery said, calling the one-time bonuses item a “misappropriation of funds.”

ADTA President Christine Williams expressed disappointment of the superintendent’s explanation of reasons behind the bonuses. She rejected any claim that her organization was responsible for an agreement allowing management increases, saying the Board made a verbal agreement back in August, as Dery said, not to include bonuses for management at the time, in a compromise to keep class sizes low.

Williams said the decision to give management bonuses “blindsided” the ADTA. She said, “We’ve been further blindsided by the rhetoric that has been used to used for one-time funds for this group.”

She mentioned the challenges of teacher turnover, Learning Center needs and increase in IEPs (Independent Education Plans). Williams said more support for teachers and class size reduction has been a shared goal with the district.

As far as the money for bonuses, Williams explained the confusion that filled the room.

“Our organization did agree to alternate language in the contract that allows the district to collect the money without lowering class size several years ago. This decision was a difficult one, but it was done with the verbal understanding that the district would lower class size. If a single mistake was made at any elementary site, all of the grade span adjustment money would go back to the State. That’s why we did it,” she said. “That’s the problem with verbal agreements.”

“We cannot continue to spend our own money making sure students have the supplies they need because the district prioritized themselves first over students,” Williams said.

Some teachers expressed gratitude for the materials fund, which Butler said, can be estimated to about $150 per classroom, but many still had complaints about the general use of the monies provided by the State, which they voiced to the Board.

Among other complaints were that teachers were working too many hours and were buying their own school supplies.

AUSD teachers were given $100 for supplies this year, which, many said, is not enough for their student’s needs. Teachers said they are buying their own tissues, paper, and STEM project materials. One parent glued $100 worth of school supplies to a piece of cardboard, to illustrate the point that $100 doesn’t go very far.

“There are some really loyal teachers in our district,” said Josh Donovan, owner of Give Fitness, AUSD substitute teacher and AHS graduate. “At the same time, when I’m listening, hanging out, observing, they don’t sound happy. They don’t feel appreciated and they certainly don’t feel heard. The tension is tangible.”

Members of the Board took time to explain the history and reasons for the one-time bonus, expressing a grave need for unity, as many issues and challenges came up during the discussion on management bonuses. Trustee Tami Gunther expressed appreciation for the community members who spoke, saying everyone was very respectful. Trustee George Shoemaker said, as a “numbers guy” and parent of AUSD students, he understands the difficulty of balancing a budget when resources are scarce. He said it’s very hard to make everyone happy, but that the Board would certainly try to work together, especially when it comes to the ADTA and negotiations.

“I think that it’s important for everybody to stay active with their association,” Shoemaker said. “I would like to see us all get along.”

“I feel a little silly,” Gunther said, “but I didn’t realize how deep the deficit was for materials.” Her comment brought applause from many present. “I’m also appreciative of the emphasis on class size reduction. That’s something, hopefully, we can look at.”

Teachers have been showing up to the past few school board meetings, expressing their need for better, more lucrative salaries as the Board finalizes the budget for the new year.

Butler said a new and approved current teacher contract with ADTA that runs up to June 30, 2020.

“It’s wonderful,” Butler said. “It calls for annual reopeners, which allow both parties to bring items for discussion. And each year, of course, salary, benefits, health and welfare will be there, but they also pick other items to bring.”

Former AUSD teacher and Trustee Donn Clickard said he’d like to look at what the district is doing for classroom supplies.

“I speak for all of us here,” Clickard said. “Our job is to make sure every child gets the best possible education that he or she can get. And that has to happen because we have great teachers. It has to happen because we have adequate supplies. It has to happen because we’ve got a good administration. It has to happen because we have good bus drivers. It has to happen because we have good custodians. It has to happen because all of us trustees are doing our jobs.”

“We’re not perfect,” he told the room of people — some whom still held signs on their laps that said, “SHOW US WHERE YOUR PRIORITIES ARE!” and “STUDENTS AND TEACHERS FIRST.”

“But we’re going to do the best we can,” he continued, “and we’re all listening to you. We promise to continue to work as hard as we can to see that you have what you need to do your job and do the job well.”

You may reach Reporter Beth Giuffre at [email protected] for questions and/or feedback.

(Photos by Rick Evans)

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