Seth Rosenblatt

Seth Rosenblatt

With the continued uncertainty around public school financing in California once again (and the possibility of “trigger cuts” to education if the governor’s tax measure fails in November), California school children face the possibility of a school year that is shorter by as much as four weeks. An article in the Sacramento Beeoutlines the choices that many districts are facing. It states: “The Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that eliminating a school week statewide would save $1 billion.” The LAO is wrong – eliminating a week of school actually saves no money at all.

Coming from the business world and then serving on a school board for five years, I have come to appreciate how much people oversimplify the application of business practices to government, and very often citizens are quick to judge government as incompetent before understanding all of the context and the complexity of the issues. I have written many articles discussing how often these government critics are misguided. But there are indeed some areas where government can learn from business, and one of them is regarding the unique, very strange, but all too common public sector cost-cutting approach called “furlough days.” What it means is that public agencies tell their employees not to come into work a certain number of days so that the agencies can reduce the employees’ pay proportionally.

Almost every article written on the topic (and nearly every discussion among government officials) just assumes that the only way to reduce employees’ salaries is through furlough days. In the government lexicon, salary reduction = furlough days.

This linkage echoes a century-old, hourly-wage framework when reducing employee costs meant reducing hours worked. However, teachers – and most government workers – generally fit the job description of a salaried professional more so than a factory worker. Obviously reducing someone’s income is a horrible step to be forced to take, but if it must be done for financial reasons, why in the public sector does it automatically mean everyone should work less? Note that when private sector businesses reduce salaries (which many have had to do over the last five years), employees tend to work more, not less (even if just to pick up the slack for other employees who were laid off).

So the LAO is wrong because the furlough day in and of itself saves no money (except maybe for a little bit of electricity saved by not turning on the lights). It is the salary reduction that saves the money. Yet, this apparently obvious analysis seems quite foreign to most in government. In almost all school districts (and other government agencies) across the state, it’s just assumed that you have to offer furlough days to save money. This is a case where government is just being dumb – furlough days are antiquated and hurt children.

The obvious alternative is to cut compensation, but leave the workload intact. But the current mindset is so ingrained that we have assumed the coupling of reduction of compensation with reduction of workload when we should be talking about them separately. There could be reasons (employee morale, etc.) to adjust the workload of employees, but we need to address these issues separately and not assume an automatic linkage. And, admittedly, any change like this will likely have to be negotiated with labor groups, which may push back very hard on a “salary cut only” scenario. Also, such negotiations often include a provision to restore this pay as the first priority when funding returns.

It saddens me greatly to see so many school districts shorten the school year and also cut non-student days, which are used largely for professional development to make instruction better. These actions directly hurt our kids, yet no one seems to be speaking for them. Of course our educational system is woefully underfunded, and it’s devastating that employees have to sacrifice financially because of it. But if such sacrifice is required, why also hurt children for no reason other than that’s the way we’ve always done it? We know the state system is failing our kids – but let’s not exacerbate the harm by the failure of local school boards to stand up for them on this issue. Parents should be up in arms and demand to both their local school board and their local unions that we just can’t accept them any longer.

Seth Rosenblatt is the president of the Governing Board of the San Carlos School District, currently in his second term. He also serves as the president of the San Mateo County School Boards Association and sits on the Executive Committee of the Joint Venture Silicon Valley Sustainable Schools Task Force. He has two children in San Carlos public schools. He writes frequently on issues in public education, in regional and national publications as well as on his own blog. In his business career, Seth has more than 20 years of experience in media and technology, including executive positions in start-up companies and large enterprises. Seth currently operates his own consulting firm for technology companies focused on strategy, marketing, and business development. He holds a B.A. in Economics from Dartmouth College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

 


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  1. Navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

    I think it would be useful to have some examples from different districts on how they are approaching their budgets. There seem to be a lot of possible combinations this time around, including the two initiatives and potential mid year cuts.

  2. E. Rat 4 years ago4 years ago

    Part of the purpose of furlough days is to make clear to all stakeholders the costs involved in education. This was obvious in San Francisco Unified, where district officials changed their voice mail to note furlough days are the outcome of reduced education funding. By cutting student days, not only do children miss education, they also need alternative care for the school day. This puts pressure on parents and communities. At … Read More

    Part of the purpose of furlough days is to make clear to all stakeholders the costs involved in education. This was obvious in San Francisco Unified, where district officials changed their voice mail to note furlough days are the outcome of reduced education funding. By cutting student days, not only do children miss education, they also need alternative care for the school day. This puts pressure on parents and communities. At some level, there has to be an assumption that this could lead to more support for local/state funding improvements. Your suggestion is that teachers should make the reality furloughs expose invisible, thereby reducing any pressure for restoring education funding.

    You also ignore that teachers statewide have accepted various salary cuts and/or freezes, loss of retention bonuses, etc. Moreover, teachers already ameliorate funding losses through equipping their own classrooms – something so well understood there’s a federal tax credit for it.

    Replies

    • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

      To be clear, I don't at all ignore the sacrifice that teachers have made with regard to salary cuts/freezes or the investment they make in their own classroom. I say multiple times that we under-invest in our teachers. You do make a good point that furlough days could have a political effect by making the pain more obvious, although you also properly acknowledge that is a theoretical one which clearly hasn't had the desired outcome. … Read More

      To be clear, I don’t at all ignore the sacrifice that teachers have made with regard to salary cuts/freezes or the investment they make in their own classroom. I say multiple times that we under-invest in our teachers.

      You do make a good point that furlough days could have a political effect by making the pain more obvious, although you also properly acknowledge that is a theoretical one which clearly hasn’t had the desired outcome. I would also argue that a role of a school board is do the best thing you can do for kids given the financial hand you are dealt. For example, our school board (and others) have actually discussed the idea of not making cuts at all in protest and going “negative” (meaning intentionally filing negative certification three year plans) — effectively flirting with insolvency. Many board members have made the case that we would be sending a strong message to state lawmakers if we did that, and if everyone did it, think of the impact. So, although that stance is tempting, ultimately most school boards in the end will decide that they have to do the best job they can locally, even if it in some way contributes to the larger political problem of masking the problems the have. Of course we hear critics of public education say: “clearly you don’t need more money because schools keep running.” Those folks don’t see the implications of our cuts, either short-term or long-term. So, I agree with the concept of the political statement, but I think in the end we still need to tip the scales to the side of doing the best thing for kids in that local school district, which I would argue includes not shortchanging their instructional time.

      • el 4 years ago4 years ago

        One of the biggest challenges for school boards has been predicting how long this crisis would last. Most projections back in 2009 had the money returning to normal for 2013-14 but that's not looking so likely now. The challenge of giving our 4th graders the best 4th grade we can give them this year while also still giving them the best 5th grade we can give them next year is a difficult tightrope to walk. I've … Read More

        One of the biggest challenges for school boards has been predicting how long this crisis would last. Most projections back in 2009 had the money returning to normal for 2013-14 but that’s not looking so likely now. The challenge of giving our 4th graders the best 4th grade we can give them this year while also still giving them the best 5th grade we can give them next year is a difficult tightrope to walk.

        I’ve seen some choices that I find pretty unfortunate. I think perhaps the worst were cases where districts chose to run classes at the legal maximum size – only to have to reshuffle those classes every time a new student arrived, disrupting kids multiple times in the process.

  3. Paul 4 years ago4 years ago

    Seth, I think that your reference to other professionals is flawed. Lawyers bill by the hour, but you argue that teachers shouldn't be paid by unit of time. Doctors bill by unit of service. (HMOs use "capitation", whereby primary care physicians are paid per assigned patient. Other doctors charge a fee for every service provided.) Would you support paying teachers by number of students served? My guess is that you would not. (Given recent class size trends … Read More

    Seth, I think that your reference to other professionals is flawed.

    Lawyers bill by the hour, but you argue that teachers shouldn’t be paid by unit of time.

    Doctors bill by unit of service. (HMOs use “capitation”, whereby primary care physicians are paid per assigned patient. Other doctors charge a fee for every service provided.) Would you support paying teachers by number of students served? My guess is that you would not. (Given recent class size trends and budgetary trends, the results would be quite amusing!)

    Re: the legal definition of non-hourly, exempt employment, my post refers to the relevant legal tests. Teachers are exempt only because the word “teacher” is written into the FLSA, not because our work actually passes the law’s more general tests. Strike the word “teacher”, apply the “professional job duties” test in California’s current K-12 environment, and our status as professionals really is in doubt.

    Replies

    • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

      Paul -- I would argue that you are confusing the mechanics of how those professions bill customers with the essence of what those professions are. For example, lawyers may bill their clients on an hourly basis and doctors may get paid on a fee for service, but those are results of the business model of their profession, not the essence of their job. (And note for example that this doesn't always mean that … Read More

      Paul — I would argue that you are confusing the mechanics of how those professions bill customers with the essence of what those professions are. For example, lawyers may bill their clients on an hourly basis and doctors may get paid on a fee for service, but those are results of the business model of their profession, not the essence of their job. (And note for example that this doesn’t always mean that is how the individual gets paid, rather how the firm gets paid. The individual — especially lawyers in big law firms or doctors in a hospital group — actually get a salary, regardless of how the institution bills its clients. You can argue that schools are similar, since the “institution” does get paid on a per student basis but employees are salaried). But to be clear, my comparison was much broader than that. Teachers are indeed professionals, such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, architects, management consultants, marketing professionals, human resource specialists, or any others who have a combination of the specialized education, knowledge, and self-direction. Again, I’ve never before heard anyone advocate anything other than treating teachers even more like professionals if we are to advance our public school system — many of the areas where the current job description wouldn’t “make the test” are largely self-imposed (like many of the clauses in collective bargaining contracts). But that’s my whole point — both sides are complicit in removing the aspects of being a true profession. This post was just about one of those aspects.

  4. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    Staff are working harder no matter what cuts are made. Larger class sizes == more grading and prep time, more conferences, more stressful days Fewer administrators == more paperwork and discipline matters handled by teachers Fewer aides == more work for teachers Fewer pull out & support teachers for gifted, special ed, language support, speech etc == more work for teachers Fewer custodial hours == more work for teachers cleaning their own rooms. Fewer in-services days == more work for teachers … Read More

    Staff are working harder no matter what cuts are made.

    Larger class sizes == more grading and prep time, more conferences, more stressful days
    Fewer administrators == more paperwork and discipline matters handled by teachers
    Fewer aides == more work for teachers
    Fewer pull out & support teachers for gifted, special ed, language support, speech etc == more work for teachers
    Fewer custodial hours == more work for teachers cleaning their own rooms.
    Fewer in-services days == more work for teachers to take home or more frantic time at school for prep
    Fewer school days == more pressure to pack the same material into a shorter time frame.

    No one ever says, “Gosh, since we’re having only 170 days, let’s just lop off 50 years of history from the curriculum.”

    (Actually, history curricula is one of the great mysteries of teaching to me. Y’all have to teach 25% more American history than I was taught… plus of course all the great new stories that are associated with cultural groups that we ignored. When do you find the time? We keep making more history every year!)

    Replies

    • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

      El – I absolutely agree! All the more reason for not making the job even harder by eliminating those school days and in-service days. Of course, the real solution is changing the way we fund education in this state and bringing in more resources for public education…but that is the topic of other posts!

  5. Paul 4 years ago4 years ago

    I want to add that the legal definition of non-hourly, exempt employment is a red herring. Classroom teachers clearly do not meet the salary level test. It is doubtful that we meet the professional job duties test. In contrast to our counterparts in some other states, California teachers need not possess graduate degrees, and many do not. (Obama and Duncan, I would add, believe that advanced degrees do not improve our work, and thus that they do … Read More

    I want to add that the legal definition of non-hourly, exempt employment is a red herring.

    Classroom teachers clearly do not meet the salary level test.

    It is doubtful that we meet the professional job duties test. In contrast to our counterparts in some other states, California teachers need not possess graduate degrees, and many do not. (Obama and Duncan, I would add, believe that advanced degrees do not improve our work, and thus that they do not warrant additional compensation.) There is no need to acquire equivalent experience, either. In California, someone with 0 or 120 hours of education coursework can serve as a paid teacher of record for up to three years, under S.B. 57 and the Teacher Internship Act of 1967, respectively. With the advent of prescriptive state standards, NCLB, high-stakes testing, scripted curricula, and even online gradebooks (which eliminate discretion in assigning final grades), we perform less and less intellectual work and exercise less and less judgment. Someone else furnishes the curriculum, the instructional materials (mostly worksheets and workbooks, if we look at leading curricula such as McDougal Littell’s California Algebra I program), and the tests. Officially speaking, we are supposed to execute, and record the scores.

    Viewing the job objectively, there is a strong case for treating today’s teachers as non-exempt, hourly employees.

    Replies

    • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

      Paul -- first of all, I want to point out that from a legal definition, teachers are indeed considered "exempt" employees as "learned professionals," which indeed they are. Of course we can have an honest disagreement on whether teachers' workloads should be reduced proportionately if pay must be reduced, but I must say I have rarely heard it argued from teachers that they shouldn't be treated as professionals. My point is that there are a … Read More

      Paul — first of all, I want to point out that from a legal definition, teachers are indeed considered “exempt” employees as “learned professionals,” which indeed they are.

      Of course we can have an honest disagreement on whether teachers’ workloads should be reduced proportionately if pay must be reduced, but I must say I have rarely heard it argued from teachers that they shouldn’t be treated as professionals. My point is that there are a lot of things that go along with being a professional (both benefits and responsibilities), and the non-linkage between pay and “hours” is one of them. For example, most of our teachers actually ignore the hours in the contract anyway — that is, they work more — because they “just need to get their work done.” That is how a professional works. I suspect you probably do the same. So just officially cutting the work time only subsidizes the lower performers who don’t have this work ethic. (And if everyone has this work ethic, then the problem is indeed moot and there would be no reason to have stated work hours in the first place).

      There are certainly many more things we can do to support teachers as professionals, not the least of which is actually pay them more money. But I would also argue that the strict orthodoxy of linking money to work time is one of those things which helps reinforce the false notion among the public that teachers are not professionals. This lack of appreciation impedes real progress to make substantive changes (including more overall funding for education) to support and pay teachers as professionals.

      • el 4 years ago4 years ago

        One of the most important ways to treat them as the professionals that they are is to enlist their input on how they would prefer to deal with these budget crises. Just because in some other jobs people are working longer for less doesn't make it right, fair, or even a good strategy for a long term organization. Teachers understand that the school board doesn't have much power to create revenue, and to the extent that … Read More

        One of the most important ways to treat them as the professionals that they are is to enlist their input on how they would prefer to deal with these budget crises. Just because in some other jobs people are working longer for less doesn’t make it right, fair, or even a good strategy for a long term organization.

        Teachers understand that the school board doesn’t have much power to create revenue, and to the extent that it does (through community outreach), it requires a partnership effort of PR and donation asks.

        So sit down with the teacher representatives. Here’s the reality of 10% budget cut. We can cut staff, we can cut hours, we can offer retirement incentives, we can cut benefits, we can cut supply and field trip money… which way do you the teachers and staff think is the least harmful strategy? Would you rather cut minutes from the day or days from the year? What other ideas are there for saving money? Given that you will be teaching these kids next year and the year after, what is the best way to work within these constraints?

        I think one of the biggest impediments is that in very large districts the right answer may be different for different schools. Can districts give themselves the flexibility to consider that as a possibility? Maybe grades K-3 would be better off with smaller classes and a shorter year and maybe grades 9-12 would be better off with bigger classes and a longer year. Is this something that can even be contemplated at a school site level?

  6. Paul 4 years ago4 years ago

    As an MBA and a teacher, I find the writer's suggestion of reducing our salaries without reducing our workload (or at least restoring to historic levels) untenable. He mentions that some private-sector employees have seen their salaries reduced and have had to work harder. So it is for teachers. Elsewhere in this blog is a story about recent, drastic increases in class size. Add to this a rising proportion of special needs students (English Learners, students with … Read More

    As an MBA and a teacher, I find the writer’s suggestion of reducing our salaries without reducing our workload (or at least restoring to historic levels) untenable.

    He mentions that some private-sector employees have seen their salaries reduced and have had to work harder. So it is for teachers.

    Elsewhere in this blog is a story about recent, drastic increases in class size. Add to this a rising proportion of special needs students (English Learners, students with Individualized Educational Programs/IEPs, and students with Section 504 Plans), higher expectations for serving special needs students, and stricter monitoring of compliance (especially vis-a-vis IEPs, where there is an acute risk of litigation). On a systemic level, we must also consider the rise of charter schools, most of which operate without limits on site time or on-call availability.

    It is certainly possible to cut teachers’ salaries. Teachers in many districts have worked without cost-of-living increases for years. Other districts resort to misclassification to keep payrolls low. A classroom may be staffed by a series of emergency 30-day substitute permit holders, at about $100 per day with no benefits, against more than $200 per day plus benefits for a credentialed teacher. Some districts have simply held over their low base salaries. The $40,000 starting salary still exists in the East Bay, on the Central Coast, and no doubt in other parts of California.

    Public school teaching is already an undesirable profession. The academic quality of the candidates is low (see ETS research). Turnover is high. Outcomes are poor. Raise the workload too much, cut salaries too far, and you will have difficulty finding even marginal candidates to staff the state’s classrooms. That is what hurts children.

    Replies

    • Ann 4 years ago4 years ago

      You sound so unhappy with your chosen profession. I suggest you find a new one. Teachers (I am one) are paid well and certainly not overworked. A $40,000 starting salary, with full benefits and retirement for 10 months of work? What world do you live in? That said, when we rid ourselves of seniority based employment, begin to cull ineffective teachers and reform our education training so we are recruiting from the top rather than … Read More

      You sound so unhappy with your chosen profession. I suggest you find a new one. Teachers (I am one) are paid well and certainly not overworked. A $40,000 starting salary, with full benefits and retirement for 10 months of work? What world do you live in? That said, when we rid ourselves of seniority based employment, begin to cull ineffective teachers and reform our education training so we are recruiting from the top rather than the bottom third of our college graduates, I suggest the concurring improvement in student outcome will convince society that compensation could be higher.

      With regard to this op-ed, I could not agree more and have been advocating for an across the board pay cut for years. Lets get it over with, bite the bullet and make the needed salary cuts for ALL state workers. In a system where districts are now spending 90% of their budgets for salaries and benefits it is evident that is where the cuts must occur.

      In addition, and with regard to Seth’s Prop 13 canard, salaries had been increasing consistently (including the me-too raises garnered by administrators) for a decade+ prior to the latest incarnation of the never ending California budget disaster. Respectfully, Prop 13 is debatable for some twisted effects but reducing spending for education is not one of them. Spending for education increased exponentially since its passage. Overall spending is up as are, the number of children (largely a result of immigration, legal and illegal) as are, as we are here discussing, salaries and benefits. These two things are largely accountable for California’s ranking among other states.

      • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

        Ann -- although I appreciate that you agree with my overall premise, I must correct a few misconceptions or implications in your last paragraph. Regardless of whether you think Proposition 13 was a good or bad idea, you can not deny the facts that it has dramatically reduced funding for California public schools. Of course funding has risen since then because of the shift in burden from the local to the state (I … Read More

        Ann — although I appreciate that you agree with my overall premise, I must correct a few misconceptions or implications in your last paragraph. Regardless of whether you think Proposition 13 was a good or bad idea, you can not deny the facts that it has dramatically reduced funding for California public schools. Of course funding has risen since then because of the shift in burden from the local to the state (I have a video on this subject that explains how this happened at http://vimeo.com/19633910) — Proposition 13 reduced local revenue by half, and the state has had to pick up the burden to provide what is considered a “minimum” amount of funding per student (the “revenue limit”). But it has never risen back to where it would have been on a per student basis. (Of course, the total spending has increased because we have more students, but that’s not the measure of an investment in any given child.) Adjusted for cost of living, California ranks anywhere from 42-47th among states in amount spent per pupil, and ranks consistently 45th and below by many other measures of investment, including # of staff per student, etc. So, my piece above was not in any way to suggest that we spend too much on teachers. It was rather to discuss how we decide to balance budgets GIVEN the level of funding that we have.

        All of that said, I do agree that there absolutely needs to be reforms in the areas of seniority-based employment, training, hiring/firing practices, and work rules, and I will most certainly be addressing a lot of these issues in future posts.

        • Ann 4 years ago4 years ago

          Where spending was "supposed to be"? Based on twin bubble economic factors? Based on facts on the ground in 1978 before the "last ever" amnesty and the ensuing non-enforcement of our laws? Based on taxpayers in California being expected to fund schools for the children of illegal immigrants despite the fact that they were clear in their desire to not have continued illegal immigration let alone pay for benefits for them? Based on the "high … Read More

          Where spending was “supposed to be”? Based on twin bubble economic factors? Based on facts on the ground in 1978 before the “last ever” amnesty and the ensuing non-enforcement of our laws? Based on taxpayers in California being expected to fund schools for the children of illegal immigrants despite the fact that they were clear in their desire to not have continued illegal immigration let alone pay for benefits for them? Based on the “high cost of living” largely a result of housing values driven up by building restrictions (and population growth-need I mention the source?) long before the real estate bubble, particularly in your elite county and the surrounding bay area?

          Leaving all this aside show me the correlation between spending and outcome in education…

          • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

            You can certainly have your opinions on tax policy, immigration, real estate codes, and lots of other things that are clearly bothering you, so perhaps the most objective set of data is the comparison of California to other states. Here's where California ranks: - 46th in K-12 Spending Per Student - 47th in K-12 Spending as a Percentage of Personal Income - 50th in Number of K-12 Students per Teacher - 49th in Number of K-12 Students per … Read More

            You can certainly have your opinions on tax policy, immigration, real estate codes, and lots of other things that are clearly bothering you, so perhaps the most objective set of data is the comparison of California to other states. Here’s where California ranks:
            – 46th in K-12 Spending Per Student
            – 47th in K-12 Spending as a Percentage of Personal Income
            – 50th in Number of K-12 Students per Teacher
            – 49th in Number of K-12 Students per Guidance Counselor
            – 46th in Number of K-12 Students per Administrator
            And there are a ton of more data points with a similar comparison. So, either California is doing the right thing and every other state is crazy, or perhaps this is the result of our dysfunctional funding system that is indeed — in part — the result of Proposition 13. I encourage you to watch the video to learn more. Again, you are entitled to your opinion that public education doesn’t need more money, but let’s at least lay out the facts with regard to the funding levels.

          • Ann 4 years ago4 years ago

            I would like to know why my concerns about policies and practices that contribute to the funding and operation of schools is not relevant to this discussion? Factors that make living in California more expensive other than housing probably includes taxes and perhaps gasoline. Are these politicalchoices? Yes they are. As far as your data points go,likely the statistics you site are originally sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics. From there they are … Read More

            I would like to know why my concerns about policies and practices that contribute to the funding and operation of schools is not relevant to this discussion? Factors that make living in California more expensive other than housing probably includes taxes and perhaps gasoline. Are these politicalchoices? Yes they are. As far as your data points go,likely the statistics you site are originally sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics. From there they are taken by other interest groups (sounds like you are at Ed Week) and massaged to fit their agendas. If you look at the hard numbers, California is near the middle in average per student spending at about $10,000 per student. The wage inflator in California is an example. Most of Californians wages are determined in the market. This is what allows those with specialized skills to demand higher salaries. Government employees operate in union trusts within a monopoly. We do not have a shortage of teachers yet they are among the highest paid in the country. Now we are actually paying people to leave…up to 95% of their salary in some districts!

          • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

            For some reason, it wouldn't let me reply right below your post of 7/8 at 3:34pm, so I had to do it here. Cost of living is not some fiction -- nor does it apply to just those with "specialized skills." If it costs more to buy a house and otherwise to live in a certain area, all salaries for any given profession in that area must be higher on average compared to another area … Read More

            For some reason, it wouldn’t let me reply right below your post of 7/8 at 3:34pm, so I had to do it here.

            Cost of living is not some fiction — nor does it apply to just those with “specialized skills.” If it costs more to buy a house and otherwise to live in a certain area, all salaries for any given profession in that area must be higher on average compared to another area with a lower cost of living. A teacher (or an engineer, doctor, lawyer, or any other worker) with equivalent skills and experience must get paid more, on average, in California, than they he/she will in Mississippi. And I appreciate that comments on blog posts tend to meander way beyond the original topic, but a lot of your concerns weren’t truly germane to the discussion because it’s somewhat irrelevant why we have a high cost of living in California for the purpose of understanding the current challenges that face public schools. Regardless of whether gas prices are indeed a culprit for the high cost of living, the fact is we have a high cost of living in California and public schools have to deal with this reality.

      • Paul 4 years ago4 years ago

        Ann, I am glad that you, a fellow teacher, feel that you are "well paid" and "not overworked". You certainly do not speak for me. What school and district do you work for? Please sign me up! I have three professions (the MBA reference in my post is a big giveaway) and exercise free choice every year about whether to be in the classroom or to do something else. This underscores my point. Very few well-educated people … Read More

        Ann, I am glad that you, a fellow teacher, feel that you are “well paid” and “not overworked”. You certainly do not speak for me. What school and district do you work for? Please sign me up!

        I have three professions (the MBA reference in my post is a big giveaway) and exercise free choice every year about whether to be in the classroom or to do something else.

        This underscores my point. Very few well-educated people are willing to do so much work for so little. The premise of the article was that teacher workload should rise even as salaries are held constant (or, in effect, reduced). If you are a committed teacher working in an urban environment here in California, I’d expect that you work 12 hours a day on weekdays, and put in extra hours on Saturday and Sunday, under the conditions that I described (class size and individual accommodations rising, and work/life boundaries falling).

        If you are well-educated, you have had 4 years of undergraduate study, 2 years of graduate study in a subject matter field (Obama and Duncan’s assertions notwithstanding), a “5th year” (31 units) for your teacher credential program, and 2 additional years’ worth of evening and weekend study, under the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) mandate. The debt and the opportunity cost for this level of education are tremendous.

        Lastly, unless you work in a “nice” place like Palo Alto, Pleasanton, Pacific Grove or Carmel, your salary starts around $40,000, rising about $1,000 a year. You are laid off every year, and have no guarantee that you will be around long enough to vest in the retirement system, let alone to accrue a substantial benefit.

        It is the rare school district that still offers the “full benefits” you mention. One Central Coast district that I worked for contributed only $400 a month IN TOTAL toward the $600 PER-INSURED-PERSON health insurance premium. An East Bay District where I worked recently went to court and prevailed, eliminating all OPEB (“Other Post-Employment Benefit”) funding for new employees, including retiree health insurance.

        Doctors, lawyers, engineers and other recognized professionals simply wouldn’t work under such conditions.

        The downside with treating teachers as professionals is that you also have to compensate them like professionals. That will never happen in California.

        • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

          Paul, I largely agree with you on the plight of teachers and how as a state we don't pay teachers as professionals. That said, I want to correct one misstatement. You said: "The premise of the article was that teacher workload should rise even as salaries are held constant (or, in effect, reduced)." That was not the premise. The premise was that if a local school district must cut salaries to … Read More

          Paul, I largely agree with you on the plight of teachers and how as a state we don’t pay teachers as professionals. That said, I want to correct one misstatement. You said: “The premise of the article was that teacher workload should rise even as salaries are held constant (or, in effect, reduced).” That was not the premise. The premise was that if a local school district must cut salaries to balance the budget because of the state’s reduction in education funding, it would only compound the problem to cut the workload proportionately. I appreciate that you don’t agree with that point of view, but I wanted to be clear.

  7. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    I think it is obvious, though I will say it anyway, that indeed many districts have not chosen furlough days, and have chosen other strategies to balance school budgets. In my experience, both teachers and school boards believe in the value of a 180 day year. That said, giving districts the option is not the same thing as forcing them to take it, and the option may open up possibilities for some districts. Having a frank … Read More

    I think it is obvious, though I will say it anyway, that indeed many districts have not chosen furlough days, and have chosen other strategies to balance school budgets. In my experience, both teachers and school boards believe in the value of a 180 day year.

    That said, giving districts the option is not the same thing as forcing them to take it, and the option may open up possibilities for some districts. Having a frank discussion with staff and parents about the tradeoffs of a shorter year versus layoffs versus other cuts may make other options more palatable.

    You’re right that the real answer is that these cuts save no money. They cost working parents hundreds of dollars in additional child care. They make teachers less secure in their financial circumstances which may lead to expensive turnover or to less devotion to their teaching job as they look for other sources of income. And in the end they will likely cost money as more kids need more intervention and tutoring time, and more kids not meeting their potential.

    The reality is we have to get out of this environment where schools are facing big gutting cuts every year.

  8. Navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

    Conceptually I agree, however, there are a couple problems with this. Firstly, negotiations with labor unions are not subject to sunshine laws thus it is not possible for the community to know what is being negotiated before an agreement has been reached. I believe changing that would require a change in the law, and I expect that would be resisted by labor groups (since I believe they worked to get that in place in the … Read More

    Conceptually I agree, however, there are a couple problems with this. Firstly, negotiations with labor unions are not subject to sunshine laws thus it is not possible for the community to know what is being negotiated before an agreement has been reached. I believe changing that would require a change in the law, and I expect that would be resisted by labor groups (since I believe they worked to get that in place in the first place). I also understand why this restriction exists, so reversing it would require that the community play an active and responsible role in the process, which I believe would be difficult to guarantee. Regardless I agree that community members really need to go through this thought process in order to understand what happens when board policy is made. 

    Furthermore, linking teacher compensation to funding in the way that is proposed would essentially put legislators in control of teacher salaries. I think it’s pretty clear that they would not use such a power responsibly. If state revenue were not so capriciously defined this might work. The problem is the legislators are also the ones in charge of defining revenue streams, and that process, in and of itself, is extremely political.  To some extent i think this is exactly why the current system exist as it does.

    Perhaps most imprtantly, I also do not believe that there are any revenue cuts that don’t impact students. That is perhaps the first lesson our communities should learn. And I hope that they would not see this as some sort of silver bullet for problems associated with underfunding. I find it extremely difficult to believe that teachers would actually work harder if we cut their pay (partially because they already work their rears off, partially because they are already the scapegoats). It may work for a little while but imagine if this were the mechanism used to address our deficits over these few years we’re in now. Teacher pay would have to be reduced dramatically to come close to playing a significant role in balancing our current budgets. So much so that I think it would clearly impact the quality of education. Note I believe that current legislator policy that’s allowing districts to cut the school year also included language to maintain a full year of benefits. So even that is already a concession not given. 

    That said, any board member in California has a responsibility to assess this as one potential solution and if they deem it would be the one that impacts children the least (definitely not a given, especially in the long run) they obviously have the responsibility to fight for that action. Currently it is very difficult for them to engage the community in that discussion. Especially to do so in a way that is not automatically seen as political (or ‘wielded’ in that way).

    Replies

    • Seth 4 years ago4 years ago

      Thanks for the comments. I wanted to address some of your issues, as I don't think they are in opposition to my main point. I agree that negotiations are an inherently closed process (and perhaps there is value to changing that), but it doesn't change the fact that our school board members (myself included) need to often stand up for certain principles, even if it's done behind closed doors. The comment about … Read More

      Thanks for the comments. I wanted to address some of your issues, as I don’t think they are in opposition to my main point. I agree that negotiations are an inherently closed process (and perhaps there is value to changing that), but it doesn’t change the fact that our school board members (myself included) need to often stand up for certain principles, even if it’s done behind closed doors. The comment about linking teaching salaries to a restoration in state funding was merely a recognition that many school boards need to negotiate this in order to get concessions in the first place. I was neither advocating nor criticizing the approach. But we should recognize that because of our dysfunctional state system for funding education, we have de facto turned over control to Sacramento, since 90% of school districts are “Revenue Limit” and require state funding. This is extremely problematic for many reasons, but the subject of another post 🙂 And lastly, I agree with you that any cuts hurt children in some way, whether it is reducing employee’s salaries, cutting programs, or even just not cleaning the bathrooms every day. My point in this post is to say that as school board members, our role is not to make it worse than it has to be. Cutting employees’ salaries is bad enough — but to then reduce the work year (because that’s how we’ve always done it) just exacerbates the effect on kids. And parents and community members should have these kind of conversations with their elected officials.

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