Teachers vent frustrations over salary, flight
By Paul Myers & Reggie Ellis
exeter – Negotiations between the Exeter Unified School District (EUSD) and the Exeter Teachers Association (ETA) continued yesterday, Feb. 14, but prior to that, teachers from all over the district addressed the board directly to vent their frustrations over pay and teacher flight.
According to various teachers throughout the district, good and caring teachers are leaving to other districts over the matter of pay. George Bjarke, a math teacher at Wilson Middle School said, “I’m tired of seeing good teachers leave to make more money.”
As of now the District and the ETA are one percent apart in salary negotiations. The District is offering a 4% increase while the ETA is asking for 5%. Ultimately the percent difference amounts to $108,000 even before the 15% additional statutory benefits the District would have to provide, according to EUSD superintendent Tim Hire.
At the EUSD board of directors meeting on Wednesday, Feb 8 the ETA presented a report generated by UniServe, an organization that represents the California Teachers Association. The report noted that district raises in Tulare and Kings County aggregately come out to 3.75%, however with Kings County removed the average salary increase was 4.8%. Nonetheless the report seemed misleading to the board of directors.
“Maybe before we get on our soapbox, let’s check our facts first,” board member Dewayne Faulkner said.
While the salary discussions are concerning the larger point teachers wanted to make were the amount of teachers leaving the district. Juli Hails, first grade teacher at Rocky Hill School moved back to Exeter 12 years ago because it was a destination district. She said it was “disheartening” to see teachers leave for high pay when the district is willing to pay high dollar to the Superintendent and outside consultants.
Alicia Bovetti, first grade teacher at Rocky Hill School was born and raised in Exeter and loves her job. “I get a lot out of my job but I put a lot into it and I’m teaching under a Board that undervalues me. Teachers deserve to be paid a fair wage for all they do.”
Aside from pay, teachers like former major league pitcher Adam Pettyjohn are concerned with the opportunity it means for students.
“I found success in a career in baseball through a foundation of teachers and coaches in Exeter. Our kids may miss the opportunity to have the same chances I had.”
And for other teachers, they want to make sure that a well stocked tapestry of educators is left behind when present teachers move on to retirement. Case in point, Kathy Logan said she has a “heart for Exeter” and was “grateful” to be employed here but wants to make sure to leave behind a legacy of good teachers when she is gone. She suggested moving negotiations earlier in the school year prior to budget discussions, so that the budget can reflect any changes in salary that might be made.
“What we are experiencing now is not good for anyone. It’s not good for you, us or the kids.”
Longtime band director Kirk Clague who has spent 27 years teaching in the district is inching closer to his retirement, and to him the amount of teachers leaving is impacting the level of education students are provided. He said the accumulative effect is having a lot of mediocre teachers providing mediocre education. He also said more than half of the district’s teachers now have less than 5 years in the classroom.
“I consider you as friends,” he said to the board. “But as an institution, we are saying we don’t care if you [teachers] leave.”
The most senior teacher to speak was Annie Speck, who is in her 37th year of teaching and is referred to as the “Rocky Hill Relic.” Speck said she spends as much time as her principal on campus and that she had the opportunity to leave the classroom but wanted to remain with the children. She said her husband works in the Porterville Unified School District and works five more days a year and makes an additional $5,000 in pay. Speck suggested improving the pay scale for teachers in years 10-15 in the district in order to retain experienced teachers who are not approaching the end of their career.
“I’ve gone six or seven years with no raise but I’m working under an administrator that is the top paid in the county. That definitely troubles me.”
Thus far negotiations have allowed the district to maintain teacher health benefits amounting to a $48 premium for a monthly healthcare plan worth $1,218. According to superintended Hire, the district absorbed a $48 increase from last year. Also the District has offered to increase the daily rate paid to teachers attending workshops and other instruction related seminars. Hire noted that the increase brings the rate from $150 per day to $200 for the 2016-2017 school year and then increase to $225 for the 2017-2018 school year, and then increase once more to $250 the following year.
But in terms of salary the district is handicapped by demographics and therefore the amount of money it receives. In comparison to nearby districts, aside from the Visalia Unified School District, Exeter Unified receives less funding for their Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). That is in large part due to the number of students who qualify for either, free and reduced lunch, English Language Learners, or foster youth. Students who qualify as two or more of those designations are only counted once.
The higher the percentage of students that qualify under those designations directly correlates to the amount of funding allocated to the district. School districts with a large amount of student who qualify under one or more of those three categories, the more funding the district receives. However if 85% of students in the district qualify then the State of California Department of Education designates them as if 100% of students qualify.
Also there is some flexibility with LCAP dollars. According to Hire the funds are supposed to be used to increase or improve students services. Therefore those funds can be used to hire extra teachers, supplemental instructional materials and academic and technology coaches.