An imposing crowd of between 250 to 300 Turlock teachers sent a powerful message to Turlock Unified School District Administration and the Board of Trustees Tuesday night — they are done playing games and they demand the respect they deserve as educators of youth and molders of young minds.
As TUSD Admin and Trustees exited their closed session chambers at the TUSD Professional Development Center they were met with a sea of teachers — dressed mostly in black clothing and the music of “Respect” by Aretha Franklin and the chanting of “Respect” from teachers.
Many of the teachers were dressed in black to signify their collective “mourning over loss of professional respect.”
Last week the Turlock Teachers Association (TTA) issued a press release stating in the past year they have filed five separate complaints with the State of California Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), but current contract negotiations between TTA and TUSD seems to have pushed matters to the boiling point.
The main sticking point, TUSD is mandating teachers remain on campus after school until school site principals determine when they can leave — with no exact determination what those hours might be.
In the current contract negotiations TUSD mandates, “Employees shall remain on duty at the school building until they have completed all professional responsibilities as determined by the site principal."
That is followed by a list of nearly all teachers’ professional duties they already complete outside of normal classroom hours, including curriculum planning, Student Study Team or Individualized Education Plan meetings, remediation and enrichment for an individual student as appropriate.
This sticking point was the straw that broke the teachers’ back — or more accurately unified them to take action.
“Frustration Level is Over the Top”
In the past, board members and TUSD administrators have indicated that ongoing complaints from TTA representatives are just a small, but vocal minority of teachers who are disgruntled. They were painfully wrong as more than one-third of the 700 TTA members showed up for the rally.
Devon Foote, a teacher for the past 35 years at Turlock High School, says he has never in all of his career seen morale so low amongst his colleagues.
“The board of trustees needs to realize teachers are united,” he said. “They are only getting what the TUSD administration are telling them and they need to see and hear our side. A few years ago we had 17 teachers retire from Turlock High — I’ve never seen that many in one year, it’s normally four or five. The frustration level is over the top.”
His opinion was widely shared as teacher after teacher spoke to the board during the public comment and staff reports session.
“We’ve done a good job in hiring the best, but now we are doing a good job at losing the best,” said Christine Rowell, a fourth-grade teacher at Medeiros elementary school.
“One of our biggest concerns is that we don’t believe we are treated with respect as professionals,” said TTA President and 31-year THS German and English teacher Julie Shipman. “We sit at the negotiations table expecting to enter into good faith bargaining, but that isn’t happening.”
“Thus far the district is not interested or willing to discuss class size language changes, binding arbitration, change of all sick days to discretionary leave, payment for teachers who have to move grade levels or classrooms at anytime during the year. They aren’t even interested in forming a committee to look into options to saving money on health benefits that cost a family $1,600 per month… the District doesn’t choose civility when dealing with their employees.”
Pay, Benefits Plummeting for Turlock Teachers
California Teachers Association (CTA) Staff Consultant to the TTA, Terri Pinkney, also addressed the board. Pinkney is a CTA rep in both Merced and Stanislaus Counties.
“Turlock was once a premiere district, but Turlock no longer a leader when looking at ability to retain quality educators.. It ranks 10th out of 15 districts for salary schedule and is even lower in our of pocket health care cost, which cost up to $22,446 annually — the highest in Stanislaus and Merced Counties,” Pinkney said. “TUSD is greatly increasing its revenue while cutting teacher compensation.”
Since the 2009-10 school year, the total percent of the TUSD budget spent on certificated teachers has declined from nearly 44 percent to less than 41 percent — indicating the district does not value teachers as much as they did five years ago.
Glenis Zuhlke, a teacher at Julien Elementary for the past 25 years says she always used her husband’s health benefits. Her husband was a teacher in Patterson, but sadly he passed away recently and Zuhlke told the board she had to look at using the TUSD benefits.
“I cannot afford to be on this plan with my daughter and myself and still pay mortgage,” Zuhlke said. “It’s atrocious I think. I cried when I saw that I would have to tell my 21-year-old daughter to get her own health insurance.”
Another factor teachers pointed out was the human impact they make on students lives. Several teachers spoke about how much time they spend off hours working to help students who come from all sorts backgrounds — and many do so while sacrificing their own time from their own families to help make other people’s families better.
When asked how many teachers buy their students things like shoes, clothing and other items, nearly every teacher in the room raised their hand.
“Teachers are tired of feeling not respected and not valued as professionals,” said Shipman.
TUSD Could be a “Renegade District,” Teachers can Strike
“The TUSD’s unconscionable violation of state law is harming our students, undermining the educational mission, and hurting teachers,” said Shipman. “The District has become increasingly more and more difficult to work with over the last 5-6 years.”
The number and severity of the charges could lead PERB to declare TUSD to be a “renegade” district, a declaration that would allow teachers to strike in response to the district’s illegal behavior.
Under standard bargaining process, if the district refuses to reach a fair agreement with its teachers, an “impasse” can be declared. An impasse procedure brings in a state mediator, who shuttles between the two sides, hoping to forge an agreement. If impasse does not result in a new agreement, both sides head to “fact finding” in which a three-person panel hears testimony and issues a non-binding ruling. Following fact finding, a district gains the power to implement its “last, best offer” and teachers gain the right to strike in response, a so-called “economic strike.”
Turlock teachers Jennifer Collins and Christine Rowell show they are united. 11-18-14