Education Matters: More questions than answers

Late last Friday it was revealed that the San Dieguito Union High School District’s Board of Trustees would be voting to accept an agreement with its teachers union (the San Dieguito Faculty Association — SDFA) this Thursday night, Dec. 10, at its regular board meeting.

Although the agreement calls for a staggering 12.5 percent increase in pay for this year and next fiscal year, that’s just one issue. Perhaps the raise is deserved, perhaps not.

But the kicker is that the distressingly late notice and hasty call for action mean there is no time for the public to read this agreement, weigh in on it, and share their thoughts with their elected officials. No where is it posted or available publicly.

SDUHSD superintendent Rick Schmitt said the SDFA has not yet concluded its vote to accept the agreement, as of press time, which will likely happen by Wed., Dec. 9 – one day before the trustees’ board meeting.

So we can’t see it until it’s been accepted, and that doesn’t happen until less than 24 hours before the district is asking the board to vote on it.

Although yet to be approved by the SDFA membership, this agreement has been signed and accepted by Bob Croft, president of the SDFA, and Torrie Norton, associate superintendent of human resources, on behalf of the district. In short, it’s a done deal for SDFA.

Greater than the details of the agreement, for now though, is the sunshine factor.

The district wants board members to consider this deal and have it signed, sealed and delivered in one day without informing the public in advance and giving taxpayers a chance to understand the financial ramifications.

Why not postpone the vote?

Schmitt makes no apologies, saying this timeline follows a history of how it’s been done in the past.

If that’s the only reason, then it’s time to break with tradition.

Without full disclosure, this feels like a backroom deal that’s being pushed through under the radar, in secret.

Any trustee who votes to support this on Thursday, if the vote is not postponed, is supporting not just this contract but is casting a vote against open government.

A “yes” vote at this early stage means rejecting transparency and embracing instead a disturbing strategy of hiding spending from taxpayers.

In the interest of respect for the public and a solemn duty as elected officials, each trustee should be urged to support a postponement of this vote to allow enough reasonable time for review. Anything else would be an insult to those who elected them and a betrayal of the public trust.

The deal

With little time to digest the impact of this raise or gather and study comparative data from the county and other nearby districts, it’s difficult to judge whether the increase is appropriate.

On the surface, it seems high – a 7 percent increase for 2015-2016, retroactive to July 1, 2015, plus another 5.5 percent for 2016-2017.

Plus, there’s the $1,000 English Learner stipend (what some would call a bonus) that’s now to be incorporated into the salary structure rather than itemized out as a separate stipend. It’s paid to teachers certificated to teach English learners, even though all teachers must now have this certification.

This costs, and under the new contract will continue to cost, the district about $500,000 a year.

The agreement also calls for a salary reopener discussion for 2017-2018, so there may be further increases to come.

There’s more. According to Schmitt, the same deal will be given to all employees, not just certificated teaching staff. That would include Schmitt himself (whose salary is $220,000), and his four associate superintendents who are each paid $162,250.

The raise would extend to all management (principals, assistant principals, directors) as well as all classified employees (support staff, custodians, librarians, and others).

“That’s been our history,” to give the same benefits to all employees that the SDFA negotiates for its teachers, Schmitt said.

There are so many unanswered questions. This is not to say the district has been evasive; it has not.

It only means there has not been enough time (there was only one work day) to obtain sufficient answers and digest the information before deadline. Even though many details are missing, the public should be aware of what’s about to happen this week.

Regardless of the merits of the increase, the immediate need is to postpone the vote this Thursday to allow the public time to review the contract. Ignoring this requirement for transparency would be an outrage.

— Marsha Sutton can be reached at marshasutton@gmail.com.

Update: Although Supt. Schmitt was adamant that there would be no delay for a vote on this item when we spoke on Monday, there is now indication that, perhaps due to public pressure, he may do just that.

A proposal has been forwarded to board members to reschedule the vote on the contract for Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. This one-week postponement is tentative.

People interested in this item should check the district website for confirmation of details, and can call the district office (760-753-6491) and speak to either Torrie Norton or ask for the superintendent’s office to see a copy of the proposed contract.

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