Teachers union reports trouble understanding furlough days | May 29, 2009 | Danville Express | DanvilleSanRamon.com |


Danville Express

Newsfront - May 29, 2009

Teachers union reports trouble understanding furlough days

Trustees 'reluctantly' move arts money into general fund

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Teachers union president Darren Day told the school board Tuesday night that teachers had trouble understanding the "layoff days" being negotiated with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. He said they ask him, "Did the teachers not do the work they were asked to?"

"Teachers ask me this all the time," he said.

"Have we done everything else we could?" he asked. "What's best for kids is happy, honored teachers."

Negotiations with the union are expected to center on voluntary furlough days for the entire district and Day, president of the San Ramon Valley Education Association, had been asked to give feedback from teachers on plans to enact furlough days, whereby teachers take a day off and are not paid for it.

Statistics provided by the district showed that each furlough day would save an estimated $760,000. The spending plan being considered would have two furlough days next year, three the following year, and four the year after that.

"Have we done everything else we could?" Day asked. "What's best for kids is happy, honored teachers."

"It's important to all of us to feel we've been included in the decision," he added.

On Tuesday night, the school board also voted to "sweep" money from categorical programs funded by the state and divert them into the general fund to cover district shortfalls.

"Our superintendent has challenged us to prepare students for the 21st century," commented Barbara Farmer, visual arts teacher at California High School, during the public hearing, asking how students could be taught to think creatively when arts programs were being cut.

"As Einstein said, 'Imagination is more important than knowledge,'" she said.

"The state gave flexibility to the individual districts," reported Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services, Christine Williams, "and we had to look through all the categorical fundings."

"There is $2.8 million in categorical funds to be moved into flexible funds," Williams said. "Sometimes we get the money late in the school year. Sometimes we don't spend all the money, we wait for a rainy day. The rainy day is here." Although, she noted, it will benefit the district generally rather than the art and music programs.

The cuts will take the art and music funding back to where it was three years ago, said Williams, before the extra funding came from the state.

"Did we build the budget with the idea that this would be swept?" asked Trustee Greg Marvel.

Williams said yes, that otherwise they would have had to make cuts somewhere else.

"We're impacting the quality of education to our kids," said Marvel but nonetheless moved to pass the cuts.

Trustee Rachel Hurd complimented Farmer on her comments and said, "Arts are important to develop out-of-the-box thinkers." She reluctantly seconded the motion.

"I'm as disappointed in this as anything," said Trustee Paul Gardner. "I believe arts is as important as science and reading and writing. But we are between a rock and a hard place and there is no comfortable place to go."

Trustee Ken Mintz commented that he shared everyone's frustrations.

Board president Bill Clarkson took the vote, which was unanimous, and commented, "It was a reluctant first move, a reluctant second, and a reluctant vote."