Teachers: We ‘want some accountability’

Frustration among teachers at budget cuts, larger classes and stalled contract negotiations boiled over at a packed San Mateo Union High School District board meeting Thursday night.

Members of the 440-member district Teachers Association organized a picket at the board of trustees meeting Thursday in response to what they say has been reckless budgeting and bad-faith bargaining on the part of district officials. The protest followed a vote of no confidence earlier this week in Superintendent Samuel Johnson and Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Ethel Konopka.

“Holding a vote like this is an unprecedented step for us,” said Craig Childress, Hillsdale High School teacher and Teachers Association president. “But the district’s actions are also unprecedented. People are fed up and want some accountability.”

The district board in September, acting on orders from the San Mateo County Office of Education, cut $3.5 million from its operational budget this year in order to have a $2 million reserve by June 2007. The district also expects to cut an additional $600,000 from its budget next year.

An equivalent of 12 full-time teachers and 36 classified staff — such as office employees and janitorial workers — were among the hefty September cuts. Contract negotiations for the remaining employees did not start in earnest until after the board approved the budget cuts and reached an impasse on Nov. 20, with both sides now seeking mediation.

Childress said the district has been “dragging out negotiations, coming unprepared for bargaining sessions and showing little grasp of the issues at hand.”

Teachers are also saying they are being spread too thin as a result of the fall cuts, with some classes averaging between one and three students larger than usual. The district board denied the class-size grievances in a closed session Dec. 7, saying the variances in the class size were unfortunate, but still allowed under the contract.

The contract says teachers can have a maximum of 165 students per day, with no more than 35 per class period, Superintendent Sam Johnson said.

“I understand their frustration,” Johnson said. “I’m frustrated, too. But I’m also responsible for providing leadership. And that means that there are decisions and hard choices that have to be made.”

Though no action was planned at last night’s meeting, trustee Marcia Cohn-Lyle said she welcomed the teachers’ comments on their frustrations.

“I don’t mind making the effort for open communication between the board and the teachers,” Cohn-Lyle said. “But I have no comment on their grievances.”

tramroop@examiner.com

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