Teacher, District Negotiations Uncertain


Natalie Li, News Editor

The Acalanes Education Association teacher’s union is in contract negotiations with the district. Specifically, teacher compensation for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 years and changes to language are being negotiated.

From the union standpoint, the AEA is asking for the district to include a salary increase for teachers in their contracts. According to AEA President Nick Carpenter, teachers have not received a raise since January 2008. In addition, teachers have taken furlough days in recent years.

Mathematics teacher Petro Petreas believes that the district’s instructors should now be more adequately compensated in the new contract. “The fact remains that over the past 5 years, even before the furlough days, we have received no salary income of any kind. There is inflation every year of a few percent a year and our salaries are not changing. Basically, things are getting more expensive and our wages are staying the same. We have less buying power, and essentially we are making less money,” he said.

Social studies teacher Dino Petrocco said, “Over the past several years, we have done whatever we could to make sure the district could get through the toughest financial times during the recession. We took furlough days, we’ve allowed our class sizes to get bigger so we’re teaching more kids, we’re still doing the same quality work, and for at least 2 years we were making less money doing it. We really feel like now is the time for them to show a little respect and appreciation.”

Petreas agrees with this sentiment. “Schoolloop has been working for more and more people, overall STAR test scores have gone up, more people have been taking AP tests, more people have been passing AP tests, the average score of AP tests has gone up, sports are doing really well– a lot of teachers coach them– there’s a lot of clubs, there’s a lot of activities, and teachers have been more involved than the minimum requirement. We feel that every year we are doing more and more– tutoring students, giving makeup tests– and we have not been adequately compensated financially,” said Petreas.

According to Associate Superintendent Christopher Learned, a representative of the District negotiating team, the negotiations have been met with substantial uncertainties. “The District is totally at the mercy of the state; the governor’s budget did not give Acalanes any favors. Right now, the state is funded at 22 cents what we are entitled to. For every dollar, there is only 78 cents available to us. It’s very serious –a very structural problem– we either decrease expenditures or increase revenues,” he said.

The crux of the negotiations hangs in the uncertainty of the Governor’s revision of this year’s budget proposal in May, according to Carpenter. “We don’t know how tightly the Governor will hold the amount but the process is very fluid and up in the air, so there is a high degree of uncertainty. Both the AEA and the district know that a lot of things can change with politics, which is not beneficial to our district,” he said. “We have to negotiate because there is always going to be uncertainty. Teachers can no longer take stack salaries and need to increase and maintain what we had in 2008.”

Learned said, “That’s the problem we need to address: fairly compensating our employees but balancing our budget.”

Teachers and employees spanning all 4 district campuses –Acalanes, Campolindo, Las Lomas, and Miramonte– have joined in a “We Are Here” campaign to represent their union and push for changes in their contracts. Science teacher Patrick Wildermuth came up with the campaign’s title based on a the song “I Was Here” that Beyonce Knowles performed at the United Nations World Humanitarian Day in August 2012.

“It’s basically a song about giving and being there for other people. I thought the ‘I Was Here’ personalizes it: it means that we were here during the bad times, when there wasn’t money and programs were about to be cut,” said Wildermuth. “We made sacrifices in our pay to make sure the programs were not sacrificed and students could have their programs and all the teachers remained employed when things were really bad in 2008-2009.”

Social studies teacher Caron Brownlee is one of the ardent supporters of this campaign and pushed for a theme around which to rally the AEA. “I was telling Patrick that we need to have some sort of theme, kind of like how Occupy Wall Street has ‘We are the 99%.’ Before we embark on this mission, we need some sort of slogan to rally around. Patrick discovered the ‘We Are Here video,’ and I said ‘this is perfect.’ We are humanitarians trying to improve life in Moraga, and this video shows humanitarians trying to improve life in the world.”

Brownlee said, “We are doing a lot behind the scenes that is improving the tapestry of the Campo community and it’s becoming more and more difficult to make ends meet. The district needs to at least recognize that we’re still here and that we deserve some monetary compensation for it, not because we want to get rich, but we want to financially survive.”

The week of April 15-19, AEA members from all campuses chose to close their classroom doors during lunch and take that time for themselves, as is their right by state law. According to Wildermuth, all teachers are entitled to a “duty-free” lunch by the state, yet oftentimes, teachers set aside this right to tutor students, administer make-up exams, advise clubs, or otherwise provide services.

Petrocco said, “By California labor law we get what’s called a duty-free lunch, which means we get half an hour to 40 minutes every day that we don’t have to do our job –that is our time. Most teachers don’t do that. We give up our time for the things that kind of enrich the school –the ability to be parts of clubs or being able to access your teachers so you can understand calculus better, being able to sit down with your teachers and talk to them one-on-one during lunch time.”

Wildermuth said, “We thought we’d like to point out some of the small things that we do before starting on big things like writing letters of rec in the fall.”

Carpenter said, “The Acalanes Union High School District is the #1 high school district in California. Our closest competition are the Los Gatos and Mt. Tamalpais districts, since we are often compared to them. They’re way better paid, with much higher salaries. Considering that we’re the best district, we should be being paid the highest salaries as well.”