San Dieguito Union High School District board approves new faculty agreement

The San Dieguito Union High School District’s (SDUHSD) special board meeting on Dec. 17 ended with a roar of teacher cheers and Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” playing over a loudspeaker. The celebratory mood came on the heels of a 3-2 vote in favor of the new agreement with the San Dieguito Faculty Association (SDFA) which provided for a 12.5 percent raise for teachers and administration, the first master contract raise since 2007.

Trustees John Salazar and Mo Muir voted against it.

SDUHSD Superintendent Rick Schmitt said that it is an agreement that allows for continued budget stability for the district while at the same time allowing for some financial security for teachers and counselors.

SDUHSD Board President Beth Hergesheimer said they are able to give the teachers a salary boost while maintaining a healthy budget with room to make budget and program improvements.

“The vote is not about supporting the ‘big bad union’ but supporting dedicated teachers and educators that serve your students every day,” SDFA President Bob Croft said in front of nearly 100 teachers in attendance at San Dieguito High School Academy. “I leave gratified tonight that special interest forces that undermine our district were not able to do their deed. This vote represents the best of our community and their support for our educators.”

SDFA’s three-year contract agreement includes a 7 percent salary increase retroactive to July 1, 2015, a 5.5 percent salary increase for 2016-17 and a shift for the flexible spending account from healthcare into salary.

The agreement was reached through productive interest-based and collaborative negotiations.

The board postponed its approval of the agreement from the week prior at the request of Salazar, to allow for more time for the public to review the contract. Salazar said he would have liked a longer delay but the agreement had to be approved by Dec. 31 to comply with CalSTRS (California State Teachers’ Retirement System) new regulations on creditable compensation as it relates to healthcare benefits. The new regulations require school districts to end the flexible spending account model by the end of 2015.

Salazar was not able to be present at the meeting but did attend the meeting via teleconference.

Board Clerk Amy Herman said she didn’t take her decision on the contract lightly — she, too, wanted to make sure it was something the district could afford. She said she felt that the agreement honors teachers for supporting the district during challenging financial times and for going above and beyond to develop and implement new teaching styles to align with the Common Core.

“My vote tonight represents the feelings of many of my friends and neighbors that believe that our schools are the best, and that our teachers are a key component of that success,” Herman said. “I can think of no better use of my tax money than to invest in public education and the teachers that work hard every day, educating and inspiring our students.”

SDUHSD Vice President Joyce Dalessandro talked about the creative and engaging instruction she experienced while visiting all 10 district schools — from a forensics investigation in science teacher Lindsey Geissler’s class at La Costa Canyon to a multi-level math discussion at Sunset High School with teacher Greg Williams that harkened back to a one-room schoolhouse.

Dalessandro said she heard teacher Jeremy Wuertz creating beautiful music with the symphonic band at San Dieguito and listened as Tim Stiven’s world history class at Canyon Crest talked about World War I conversationally like they were sitting around a campfire or living room.

She marveled at Carol Esquenazi teaching Carmel Valley Middle School students how to congregate Spanish verbs using karate chops and Chromebooks, and MaryAnn Rall leading an environmental science class talking about agriculture and the big business of industrial farming.

“I think our teachers in this district are second to none and are absolutely deserving to be number one in the county,” Dalessandro said.

Muir said her “no” vote didn’t have to do with the value of teachers, she said she knows the district has wonderful teachers and her son reminds her of that fact every day.

“I am not confident that the contract strikes the right balance between compensation and taxpayers’ concerns, such as our ability to hire additional teachers, limit class sizes and ensure our longtime ability to afford a full complement of tools to optimize student learning,” Muir said. “The collective bargaining process includes ‘good faith’ negotiations between the teachers’ union and district board who represents our students and taxpayers. Unfortunately, in this case, the ‘good faith’ excluded our board from adequately representing our students who will now have class sizes averaging from 32 students to 38.4 students. Class sizes going up is unacceptable to me.

“Our taxpayers will also be paying unknown future costs. It’s part of my fiduciary duty as a board member to ensure a sustainable future not only for our district but also for our teachers. I take this very seriously. I have not seen any public agency negotiate in this manner and do not believe it’s a best management practice. This process is simply very flawed and unacceptable to me.”

Regarding the board participating in contract negotiations, Schmitt said not one of the other 41 districts in the county do. He also responded to the claim from some in the community that the collective bargaining process was illegal.

“This process was, of course, absolutely legal and, in fact, a process that has been guided by legal counsel the entire way. This process has strict statutory regulations, all of which were followed. The illegibility claims are simple not true. People have made allegations based on misbelief or misunderstanding.”

Both Muir and Salazar had expressed concerns about the contract increasing class sizes to 38.4 and 34.6 for high school and middle school respectively. Schmitt said that those numbers were not correct.

According to Jason Viloria, associate superintendent of administrative services, the new contract language does not increase the maximums for class size averages, it simply states the numbers in a much more easily understood, transparent manner.

The formula for reporting average class size is 6/5ths times the actual staffing ratio. The actual staffing ratio is agreed upon by the district and the SDFA. The new language clarifies the ratio and process — class sizes remain 32 students to one teacher for high school and 29:1 in middle school.

“There is absolutely no changes to class sizes in this contract and, in fact, we’ve been seeing the lowest class sizes in a decade,” Viloria said.

On the phone, Salazar also took issue with the fact that the contract was posted with less than 24 hours for the public to review as the SDFA didn’t give final approval until Dec. 14. Salazar said he believed it was a “complete failure” of the rights of the public to view contract language and blamed President Hergesheimer for enabling the “charade of non-transparency.”

“I believe you should be ashamed of yourself,” Salazar said. “We’re just not being transparent, we’re just not telling the public what’s in the contract. For it to be posted less than 24 hours before the meeting, this is a joke.”

Hergesheimer responded to Salazar’s claims.

“From my perspective, that is a fairly disingenuous comment to make,” Hergesheimer said, noting that while the contract was not posted in its entirety until Dec. 14, all of the other items have been available for two weeks.

Croft said he was “disappointed” but “not surprised” by Muir and Salazar’s “no” vote, citing instances when they both voted against things over the past year, such as re-doing the associate superintendents’ contracts and several Prop AA projects.

He said the collective bargaining approach is one that has been done for several years in the district and has always been a successful process. As a resident of the district, he said he hoped Muir would have seen and recognized that.

“I hope you will not stay in the dark,” Croft said to Muir. “This is how we do things in San Dieguito. It’s not broken and we don’t need you to fix it.”

During the meeting Muir had reiterated that she supports the teachers but does not like the process.

“You guys are great teachers, my son is getting the best education,” Muir said. “But this is wrong.”