SFUSD teachers consider a strike as budget situation deteriorates 

click to enlarge On the brink: The United Educators of San Francisco union is resisting the SFUSD’s call for extra furlough days and changes in preschool and special education programs. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • On the brink: The United Educators of San Francisco union is resisting the SFUSD’s call for extra furlough days and changes in preschool and special education programs.

As negotiations over an employment contract appear to have stalled, the San Francisco Unified School District’s teachers union will meet next week for the first of two votes that could authorize leaders to call for a strike.

In an email to members, United Educators of San Francisco said the district was demanding too many spending cuts, despite what union leaders said were millions of dollars in resources the district could use to prevent layoffs and give teachers a 2 percent raise. Teachers last received a raise, of 1.5 percent, in 2008.

“The district, despite having ending reserves that push $80 million, they are asking for concessions from the teachers,” said union president Dennis Kelly. “We just don’t buy the math.”

SFUSD labor negotiator Tom Ruiz said the union was mischaracterizing the district’s finances.

“Do you think we’re hiding the money?” he said. “We’re not. Do they not want to see what the fiscal reality is?”

While the union calculates that the district will have $80 million in its coffers at the end of the year, Ruiz said much of that money is required by law to be spent in certain ways. The rest would be needed to close out the 2011-12 school year due to midyear state cuts, as well as to maintain current programs in the face of more cuts next year, he said.

“We think it’s pretty clear,” Ruiz said.

The district has called on teachers to accept four furlough days in each of the next two years, with a provision for five more days per year if a tax initiative proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown fails in November.

The union noted that the loss of these days, in addition to three professional development days that could be cut, would cost teachers as much as $5,000 a year. Kelly said teachers would prefer to reopen their contract if the initiative fails, rather than become locked into a trigger plan now.

Other points of contention include changes to the district’s preschool and special education programs, as well as a proposed increase in class sizes in elementary school, from 22 to 25 students, which would be rolled out beginning with kindergarten next year.

Ruiz characterized the changes to special education as a modernization of the district’s approach to teaching students with disabilities. The district has been under fire from the state in recent years for violating requirements that children with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment possible.

The union countered that the changes could increase special education class sizes and limit teachers’ rights, and that the district had offered no guarantee of increased resources or support for teachers as it overhauls the program.

The district also wants to revamp its programs for young children, moving from a day care model to pre-kindergarten classes tied to the school year. The union countered that this move could result in the elimination of summer work for preschool teachers.

Both union and district leaders said they hoped a strike would not happen, but Kelly said he expected his members would vote to take the first steps toward a work stoppage at a general membership meeting May 10. The last teacher strike in San Francisco lasted for six weeks in 1979.

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

Workers’ grievances against district

  • 2008 Last year SFUSD teachers received a raise
  • $5,000 Potential annual loss in income due to proposed furlough days
  • 25 New average class size of kindergarten, up from 22 currently

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Amy Crawford

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