Education

Modesto teachers call wage offer disrespectful, protest at district office

Jodie Hofkamp-Echol, right, and Curtis Johnson take part in a community protest rally by Modesto Teachers Association members Monday evening, Dec. 7, 2015, at Maze Boulevard and Martin Luther King Junior Drive. Hofkamp-Echol is a psychologist at Enochs High School and Johnson is a teacher at Hanshaw Middle School.
Jodie Hofkamp-Echol, right, and Curtis Johnson take part in a community protest rally by Modesto Teachers Association members Monday evening, Dec. 7, 2015, at Maze Boulevard and Martin Luther King Junior Drive. Hofkamp-Echol is a psychologist at Enochs High School and Johnson is a teacher at Hanshaw Middle School. jlee@modbee.com

Stalled negotiations between Modesto City Schools and its teachers union brought an estimated 400 teachers to a rally in front of the school district office just before the final school board meeting of the year. In a news release, the teachers said they were being bullied by the district and disrespected at the bargaining table.

The district and the Modesto Teachers Association declared the talks at impasse in early November, and the first meeting with an outside mediator is set for Dec. 15.

“Rather than invest in educators so we can recruit and retain teachers, this district is taking a shameful and inexcusable stand that disrespects educators, students and the Modesto community,” MTA President Doug Burton said in the statement.

“Because of the current compensation package, Modesto schools are facing staff turnover because teachers are seeking better-paying districts and districts that respect teachers as professionals,” he said. “And that hurts student learning.”

But Modesto’s salaries compare favorably against all except San Mateo schools and the priciest coastal communities. The average earnings of MCS teachers in 2014 stood at $81,720, more than $10,000 above the average for any other district in Stanislaus County. The average teacher pay statewide was $71,396. Across Stanislaus County, the average for all jobs held by those with teaching certificates or advanced degrees was $73,564, according U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Burton said Modesto teachers’ pay should be compared with that of the largest districts in California.

“Modesto City Schools is not staying competitive with the districts that matter,” he said by email Monday. On that 20-district list, he said, Modesto City Schools dropped from third place to 14th in average salary plus health benefits.

The districts he mentioned on the list – Stockton City Unified, Lodi Unified, Clovis Unified, San Jose Unified and Elk Grove – all fell between $10,000 and $20,000 below Modesto in average salary in 2014.

Modesto teachers, however, get only a partial contribution toward health care benefits, a perk bargained away long ago for higher salaries. A Stanislaus County comparison from 2014 shows Modesto teachers have a $4,800 health benefit, with other districts getting $5,400 to $12,900.

Modesto City support staff and management have signed off on the same 4 percent raises offered to teachers. But Burton said the extras teachers are asking for, for example extra prep time, would be taken out of that number, making it less than a full 4 percent.

Add in a mandated rise in contributions to bolster the future solvency of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, and the 4 percent dwindles again, teachers point out.

Reached by phone before Monday’s protest, Burton said the district needs to increase salary significantly in the face of a statewide teacher shortage already affecting Modesto classrooms.

“They have live bodies (in the classrooms),” Burton said. “But they’re using interns and long-term subs and probationary teachers that have been let go on a scale that is unprecedented in my experience.”

By district figures provided Monday, there are 27 teacher interns working toward getting their credential and three teachers working without the correct credential while completing additional coursework. Three existing vacancies will be filled starting next semester. The district has 1,400 teachers on staff.

As for teachers leaving, 19 teachers resigned for reasons other than retirement in 2014-15, which was less than the year before, said Craig Rydquist, district head of human resources.

The union said it also wants more administrative say-so. “Modesto teachers are angry and frustrated over the lack of teacher involvement in education decisions,” the MTA statement says.

It has peppered the district with cease-and-desist orders, 15 in all, protesting district actions the union says violate contract provisions calling for its approval. A “Follow the Rules” button-wearing campaign by the union calls attention to the issue.

MCS administration counters that teachers at every school site are being asked to participate in campus leadership teams and there are a number of districtwide committees including teachers.

“We’re well aware we can’t do it by ourselves,” said Ginger Johnson, associate superintendent of educational services. She said the decentralization of power to the school sites has been opposed by the MTA leadership. “Never were there as many roles available for teachers as there are now,” said Johnson, herself a teacher for 18 years.

Labor disputes, a fixture during the recession because of layoffs and temporary salary cuts, have returned with a rise in education funding. The MTA statement points to millions more in funding Modesto City Schools has received because of Proposition 30, an increase in taxes for schools that will begin to phase out next year.

Modesto City Schools’ high numbers of poor children and English learners have also qualified it for additional funding, funding that can only go to raises if it can be shown that higher pay would stabilize and improve the teaching staff at its schools.

The district has resisted dipping into that extra money for raises, saying those funds have been committed to community-driven priorities. “At this time, the (local spending plan funding) has not been approved for overall salary increased compensation,” Rydquist said.

Labor disputes involving teachers in California require mediation and fact-finding overseen by the Public Employment Relations Board, a months-long process. No strike could happen before the end of that process and the district’s imposition of its last, best offer.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

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