May 13, 2002
Teachers' union working to be heard on teacher-reduction proposal
by Jeanette Knutson
If the school district's single purpose is the education of its students, said the official newsletter of the Northshore Education Association Bargaining Committee, then the Northshore School District's budget must reflect this primary purpose.
"Look, we're not trying to bankrupt the (school) district," said Northshore Education Association (NSEA) President Aaron Feik at a press conference last week.
"It's not about how much money we (teachers) make," he said.
It's about how the district spends the money it has, Feik explained.
The NSEA and the Northshore School District (NSD) are currently in contract negotiations.
According to Feik, a recent NSD Budget Task Force recommendation to reduce the number of teachers at each district school has NSEA membership - which numbers 1,200 - more than a little concerned.
In fact, the Association's Representative Council, its governing body made up of representative teachers from each of the district's schools, voted unanimously to voice "no confidence" in the district's budgetary task force.
Bear in mind, at this point, the so-called recommendation to reduce teachers across the board is just that, a recommendation. It comes from an advisory group to the School Board, the Budget Task Force, charged with identifying ways to pare down the school district's budget for next year.
The task force was comprised of five parents, three students, four principals, two administrators, one community member, two association leaders (one of whom is a teacher) and four teachers.
The group will present its recommendations to the School Board on May 14. It will be up to the School Board to approve, reject or alter the recommendations. It may also decide to table the recommendations for future consideration.
NSEA membership intends to picket the meeting.
Now according to Feik, the task force recommendation is to reduce .5 teachers at all grades. Feik explained that translates to more than the loss of a half teaching position at each school.
Since some buildings are staffed at higher assignment levels, it could mean the loss of one to two teachers at some schools, he said.
"That could mean 18 to 20 fewer teachers in the classroom," said Feik.
But Northshore School District spokeswoman Pamela Steele said the Budget Task Force has not put forward any such proposal to reduce teachers. What they have suggested, she said, is that the staff ratio from K through 12 be increased to .5.
Steele explained that if the current staffing ratio for, say, K through 4 were 23 students to 1 teacher, their proposal would be to increase that ratio to 23.5 students to 1 teacher.
"Because of I-728 money, (Initiative 728's purpose was to reduce class size.) the impact will be minimal, at best," said Steele. "In fact, we know we will be hiring eight new teachers. There will be no layoffs in the school district, unlike in the Lake Washington School District, which has already handed out 45 pink slips. And I believe the Edmonds School District will be having layoffs as well," said Steele.
The NSEA, according to Feik, would like to be involved in the decision-making process. They would like to bargain on the task force recommendations prior to School Board action. They feel that the largest task-force-recommended cut, $1.6 million to reduce teachers in all schools, contradicts the very thing voters approved when they voted for I-728.
"Cuts should least affect kids and teachers in the school," said Feik. That's what we believe and that's what the public wants, as evidenced by their support of I-728 and I-732, he said.
Steele said the district is getting mixed messages from teachers. Some are upset about the process the district used to come up with the budget cuts; others, she said, are upset about what the reductions are.
When it comes to cutting the budget, Steele said, whether it's a government budget, a school district budget or a company's budget, there are always going to be those who are unhappy with the results.
"There will be those who complain about the way you did it," she said, "the fact that you did it or what you ended up with. It is clear to us that the State Legislature will cut back even more next school year. We cannot ignore this. We have to deal with it now."
The NSEA's theme for this bargaining year is "Restoring Priorities." They would like the district to look at the classroom and examine how best they can support it. They would like to see cuts in areas other than the classroom, said Feik.
Instead of teacher reductions, for instance, the Association would like to see district administrative costs cut more. They would like to see the money spent on business office data management cut, and some of that money directed toward the classroom. The use of two separate software programs to track student grades and pay bills is a double cost to the district, said Feik.
"We may have to settle for a basic Ford, rather than a Mercedes," said Feik, referring to the use of the two software programs when, as the Association believes, one would suffice.
"The Association will support any effort to make budgetary adjustments that restore the priority of providing quality teaching and learning programs for all students, first and foremost," an NEA press release stated.
"(The district has) to reassess what (it) provides," said Feik, "and align the budget with the priorities."
Said Steele, when compared with 16 of the state's largest school districts, Northshore "smells like a rose" with respects to central office expenses, support services expenses, teacher pay, and money spent on teaching activities, for example.
"(Northshore School District) has a tremendous amount to be proud of how we spend money to support student achievement," she said.