Local teachers hit the picket lines


News Analysis

Twelve years of labor-relations peace between the classroom teachers of Santa Monica/Malibu and the school district continued unraveling this past week. More than 300 teachers, among them 40 or 50 from Malibu, rallied outside a school board meeting May 26. Although some hesitated to call it picketing, there were protest signs a plenty. Teachers union officials indicated this massive show of support should signal to the school board the teachers meant business.

The teachers union and the district have been trying to negotiate a new contract, but negotiations appeared to have stalemated in March. Since then, both sides have met with a state mediator with, so far, little progress shown. They’re due to meet again this week.

The principal points of contention appear to be salary issues and contract issues.

The union has always negotiated for the classroom teachers, the substitute teachers, the child care teachers and adult education teachers as one unit. Now the district, in a move that hasn’t happened before, is making separate offers of 5.75 percent raise for classroom teachers and a 3 percent raise for substitutes and others, which some in the union view as an attempt by the district to split the union.

The situation was apparently exacerbated by the fact that the board already gave the superintendent a raise of almost 12 percent and other administrators a raise that averaged 9.5 percent. Assistant district superintendent Joseph Quarles was quoted in the L.A. Times as saying these raises were approved to “correct past inequities” in the way that similarly qualified administrators were paid. However, Beth Muir, Teachers Association president, indicated that wasn’t how the union viewed it. She said that in a recent L.A. County study, which ranks all 47 school districts in the county, the SMMUSD administrators finished second out of 47 in their rate of pay, while the teachers ranked 44 out of 47. The district disputes this interpretation of the numbers.

Ann Payne, a teacher at Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School, said the impasse has begun to impact Malibu and teachers are grumbling for the first time in nearly 20 years. Board President Margaret Quirones was quoted as saying there is no pecking order within the system, however, the perception among the teachers is that when the superintendent gets an 11 percent raise and the substitute teachers are offered a 3 percent raise, there most definitely is a pecking order.

Another major issue is the board’s attempt to link the pay raise to the kindergarten teachers increasing the length of the kindergarten day by 90 minutes from the present 210 minutes per day. Some in the union claim this is because the daycare program, which they view as top heavy with administrators, is beginning to lose money, and they believe the district is trying to pick up part of those costs by lengthening the kindergarten day. The district denies this emphatically and points to the fact that the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council unanimously voted earlier this year to support a longer kindergarten day.

Whatever the outcome, it seems clear that the “collaborative, consensus building process” that was designed 12 years ago in a process that was titled a “win-win” program appears to be coming to an end, and the teachers and the school district appear to be entering a newer, more confrontational type of relationship.