Tension between the Mountain View Whisman School District and its teachers union has reached a tipping point. The Mountain View Educators Association reported Wednesday, Sept. 24, that the district and the teachers union are at an impasse, and that teachers will no longer work outside of their contract hours while they await mediation.
In an email to the Voice, Jonathan Pharazyn, president of the Mountain View Educators Association, said the district turned down the teacher union's proposed 7 percent "cost of living" salary increase, and only offered to increase the original 3 percent proposed increase to 3.25 percent. The district failed to provide data or a response as to why the proposed 7 percent increase was not sustainable, he said.
Pharazyn said the California Teacher's Association will file an impasse with the Public Employee Relations Board, and will move towards a fact-finding committee and mediation.
"We feel like the facts are on our side, and that the district has the wherewithal to increase salaries," Pharazyn said.
In the meantime, he said teachers in the district will now start "work-to-rule," where teachers will only work the contractual hours, and will no longer do after-school coaching, attend district committee meetings, take home school work, or participate in the Beyond the Bell program. Work-to-rule will begin Monday, but some teachers have already started as of Wednesday, Sept. 24, when negotiations broke down.
"We understand that this negatively affects the quality of education, but what other recourse do we have?" Pharazyn said in the email. "We will continue to work with the parent community, and the community at large to create a positive environment in our district."
The district's proposal would have included a 3.25 percent "cost of living" raise on top of automatic raises received for years of service, number of education units and pension contribution, and would include an annual $1,000 stipend for teachers with a master's degree or other certification, Superintendent Craig Goldman said in a press release from the Mountain View Whisman School District. This would add up to a 9 to 11 percent increase in salaries over last year, according to the press release.
When the district offered a 3.25 percent cost of living increase, the teachers' union turned down the offer and declared an impasse in negotiations rather than making a counteroffer, according to Goldman.
"I'm disappointed that MVEA ... has decided to terminate the negotiation process. We hoped to reach an agreement today, and we don't understand why MVEA chose not to continue to bargain," Goldman said.
Goldman said the teachers union was very quick to announce they were at an impasse, and that the Sept. 24 negotiations was only the second meeting where they discussed teacher salaries. He said he believes the California Teachers Association has a lot to do with the sudden impasse, in part because its looking to tap into district reserves for higher teacher pay.
"CTA is pulling the strings. It's not about the salaries, it's about the reserves," Goldman said. "The CTA is happy with the impasse."
Teacher discontent revealed at board meeting
Board meetings have been a bit cramped for the Mountain View Whisman School District lately. For the second time this month, over a hundred teachers, parents, kids and community members packed the board room to show their support for raising teacher salaries.
Tommy Ochoa, vice president of the Mountain View Educator's Association, took a different approach at the Sept. 18 board meeting to explain the effects of the district's teacher compensation. Instead of comparing salaries to other school districts in the county, he presented a survey of 180 Mountain View Whisman School District teachers. The results were not encouraging.
Of the respondents, 44 percent said they are currently considering leaving the district, and 62 percent of teachers said they would most likely or definitely advise against teaching in the district. Only a meager 12 percent of the teachers would recommend the district to a newly credentialed teacher.
Teacher salaries haven't kept up with the cost of living, according to the survey. Since they started working with the Mountain View Whisman School District, 38 percent of the teaching staff that responded said they have had to more farther away to find more affordable rent. That brings the total number of respondents living outside of the "community which they serve" to 76 percent, Ochoa said.
Many of these teachers are also working two jobs to make ends meet, Ochoa told the board.
"Nearly one-third of teachers cannot devote their full attention to this profession as they carry other jobs to make ends meet, including working in restaurants, construction, working side jobs, coaching, babysitting (and) tutoring," Ochoa said.
While the teacher union conducted a climate survey on district teachers, one Crittenden Middle School student gave the district a snapshot of how students felt about teacher compensation. Marco Torres spoke at the board meeting in favor of higher teacher salaries, and said he asked his fellow students whether they thought teachers deserved more. If they agreed, he collected their signature. In one day, Marco said he was able to collect 120 signatures.
One teacher at the meeting challenged the district's salary schedule because it stops increasing based on seniority after 10 years. Carolyn Anzia, a Crittenden teacher, said that sometimes there's a perception in education circles that veteran teachers are somehow "stagnant" and stop growing as professionals, and that she and her colleagues have continued to grow well beyond those first ten years.
"As teachers, we have not stagnated," Anzia said. "Unfortunately, our salaries have."
She said that like many teachers in the district, the cost of living in the area has become prohibitively expensive with current district salaries. Anzia said she lived in Mountain View for most of her 16-year career with the district, and two years ago she had to move farther south.
"My rent has continued to increase by $300 this last year, and when my current lease is up, I honestly don't know where I am going to go," Anzia said. "A salary increase -- a significant salary increase -- would go a long way in making it easier to stay here."
According to a teacher union survey, 45 percent of the teachers would accept a 7 percent pay raise, 28 percent would accept a 5 percent pay raise, and 23 percent would accept a 9 percent pay raise. Only 4 percent would accept the 3 percent pay raise that was originally proposed by the district.
At the board meeting, Ochoa admitted that comparing school district salary schedules until they're "blue in the face" may not be the most effective way to argue for boosting teacher salaries. He did, however, demand that if district administrators say the Mountain View Whisman School District can't shoulder the cost of higher teacher salaries, they needs to prove it.
"The only data this community needs to see is the data that can demonstrate, in layman's terms, how this district cannot economically sustain the compensation that these teachers are asking for and deserve," Ochoa said. "This data needs to be made public."
Goldman said Ochoa's argument makes the unfair implication that the district is somehow against increasing teacher compensation. He said the district has increased cost of living adjustments (COLA) in addition to automatic salary increases in the past, and has plans to do the same again.
Timing plays a special role in all this. Normally, Goldman said, the district and the teachers union come to an agreement on salaries in spring. He said he wanted to settle the entire contract by the end of the school year because he didn't want teachers to start teaching again and not know what they are going to make.
This year things went a little differently. Goldman said salaries were not even brought up as an issue by the teachers union, and that Pharazyn told him it was not in "the union's best interest" to agree on salaries for the coming year.
Prior to the next negotiation meeting was the Sept. 4 board meeting, when teachers came out in overwhelming numbers to demand better compensation. Goldman said the district never had the time to even negotiate prior to the demands, and that the "shock and awe" tactic at the board meetings was being used prior to any negotiations.
"Now the district is being demonized for resisting teacher salary increases," Goldman said. "We are not resisting giving a raise."
The board meeting marked a celebration for thirty teachers in the district who completed their two-year probationary period and gained permanent status. Pharazyn told the board he wanted to congratulate the newly tenured faculty, but also advised the district to do their part to retain those teachers going forward.
"Retaining them ... is something that we have to see happen," Pharazyn said.
Pharazyn has criticized the district in the past for doing a poor job retaining its teaching staff, and called Mountain View Whisman School District a "transition" district where teachers stay for a few years before they move off to another school district with better compensation.
Goldman said the school district, when compared to other so-called revenue limit elementary school districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, is near the top in teacher compensation, and that when the district talks about "attracting and retaining" teachers, these are the districts they are competing with.
He said the teachers union has its focus strictly on salaries when there are two parts to teacher compensation -- salaries and benefits -- and that the Mountain View Whisman School Districts ranks very high in terms of teacher benefits.
"When you compare our benefits to others, we often rank very favorably," Goldman said.
Goldman said the school district would likely rank in the top three for teacher benefits when compared to similar school districts.
At a parent forum prior to the Sept. 18 board meeting, Ochoa and Pharazyn indicated that this is the closest they've been to reaching an impasse between the district and the teacher union.
Philip Lee has been a parent in the district for 17 years, and is currently a Huff parent. He said he remembers when the district and its teachers struggled over negotiations more than a decade ago, at a time when the district was over-budget. He said the situation today is not nearly as dire.
"Fifteen years ago -- about then -- the teachers union had an even worse time negotiating with the district. It tore the district apart," Lee said.
Back then, he said, the district was running anywhere from a $250,000 to $500,000 deficit, and fell short of its enrollment projections. The district was forced to re-shuffle students right before Christmas.
"Terrible things were happening. This is not the same situation," Lee said. "In the context that there is money to fight over, this is a good problem."