Special education staffing crisis

Here are some things I have learned.  I know many others know far more, but this is a start.   SFUSD is cutting services to students, when they should be cutting top administrators!

Back last spring, a very smart union activist within UESF explained how SFUSD had changed the “special academic minutes” requirement (?) by one minute, thus allowing them to reclassify a number of students to a lower level of services, and thus to reduce special education staff at school sites.

At the May 10 rally last spring many people came out and were very angry because the consolidations of special ed staff at many (most?) school sites had just been announced.   Based on what special ed staff have told me over the years, it is pretty much impossible to actually provide the services required by the law and that the students need!   So to reduce those services is outrageous!  With less support, the remaining teachers and paras just have to work even harder!   Not to mention that vulnerable students get less of the support that they need.

I attended the June 27, 2017 school board meeting for a different reason, and happened to hear the annual report by the Special Education Community Advisory Committee, and was shocked to hear that according to a request for information (RFI) they had filed with SFUSD, there was a projected loss of 34 SpED certificated positions and 139 SpED classified positions from last year to this year.  And then the district official said the cuts were necessary to pay for anticipated pay raises for teachers!  Here is the committee’s website, and the audio of the school board meeting (relevant part is 25:14 – 26:55).  I think SFUSD considers this to be part of its 3% “cuts to central office”, since special ed funding comes from the central office.   But actually the cuts are to the classroom!

Direct quote by SFUSD SpEd official from the audio,  “The CAC appreciates that our teachers deserve raises, massive raises…but we don’t have an unlimited supply of money and one of the ways the SPED department is doing its part is by changing RSP staffing guidelines and how students wth IEPs are being supported…. based on a public request for information from the District the CAC requested data for 2016-2017 anticipated staffing in SPED ..compared to 2017-18…there will be 39 fewer teacher FTEs , and 134 fewer paras….More and more of the work to support the special ed. kids is going to fall on teachers…big red flag,…they will need training, training, training…”

Later a committee member told me they did not know yet what the staffing levels for special education are for this year.  This person said she wanted special ed staff to report out(to the union?) about services they provide, using “Form 2” from Stetson, the firm that SFUSD hires to monitor SpED services, thereby proving on the district’s own terms that they are under-staffed.   She said they suspect SFUSD is cutting costs by doing this, which is illegal.

I just filed an RFI on SpED staffing levels for this year myself, on Nov 6, and they are required to reply within ten days.   I’ll post what they send.

Please contact the SpED CAC and UESF to report on staffing at your site, but also post somewhere else, if you feel comfortable doing so, so that the word gets out.


Brief Intro

I’m doing this for the first time, and starting it on my own… but I know, from dozens or hundreds of conversations with UESF members, that there is a strong need for greater transparency in our union, for more critical questions, and for much broader involvement of the members in making important decisions. This blog is an attempt to bring the needs of those members out in the open, in hopes we start talking with each other about how to build a more inclusive, open, democratic, and powerful union.

“SFUSD has no money” needs to be questioned

This statement needs to be thoroughly examined before UESF members accept an inadequate pay raise.  A couple of points here.

During the 2008 recession, 555 Franklin administrators took pay raises and hired new admin, while UESF members took furlough days (a pay cut).  Intrepid teachers found this out through a request for information (RFI) through the California Public Records Act.  Even worse, the security guards were cheated out of an hour a day of pay at that time, which in addition to the furlough days, meant that they took an even larger pay cut!  Some of the lowest paid employees, virtually all  people of color.   Ask them about losing their homes, commutes of two hours each way, their second jobs.

An RFI filed by UESF last summer revealed that the combined salaries of the top 13 individual central office administrators is 2.6 million dollars!  More than enough to fund a half percent of a raise for all UESF members!!  A one percent raise costs 4.2 million per year.  Is what those individuals are doing really that important?

UESF can’t directly bargain over the salaries of other SFUSD employees, but they can plant their feet and say to the district, “This is what the educators in the classroom NEED, now go and find it”, thus forcing the school district to maybe make some hard choices and restructure top admin among other things.

As it is now, UESF members are being told that they have to make the hard choices, “Oh well you are going to have to continue to financially scrape along from month to month”, and leave the district, and spend hours commuting, and drive for Uber, etc.

Your union should use your collective strength to flip the narrative and challenge what the school district says.   Educators NEED that money.

There are many more things to say about this “no money” issue.  Local school district ARE facing financial challenges, no doubt about it!   But please make your union work for YOU, and the schools and students you serve!

Some things about parcel taxes

I’m not an expert on this, I’ve just been around a while.  Get the people who know more to explain it all to you and to the rest of UESF.  Ask a lot of questions and share the answers.

SF already has a parcel tax, created by Prop A in 2008, the Quality Teacher Retention Act or QTEA.  UESF members worked really hard to get it passed, walking precincts, phone banking, etc.   It has been paying for sort of “difficulty pay” bonuses, and extra pay on the steps in the pay scales for new teachers and retention bonuses but NONE of this for paras.  Check the salary schedules at the back of your union contracts, online at uesf.org and also at the SFUSD website.  QTEA also pays for PD for paras and teachers both.  And thirty percent of the income from the tax goes to the school district and not to UESF.   My family benefited directly from this, I received stipends for hard to fill positions and hard to staff schools and a retention bonus.  QTEA sunsets in 2028, ten years from now.

I worked for UESF at the time and asked how the proposition would be written.  Former president Dennis Kelly told me himself that UESF was working with the SF Chamber of Commerce and Donald Fisher, owner of Gap, to write the law so that Mr Fisher would not put money in the game to oppose it, which is smart in a way, but do we really want the super rich to be determining what we can ask for?

How is the current proposed parcel tax being written?   According to the UESF powerpoint on the TA (at uesf.org)

“Preliminary negotiations around distribution of parcel tax funds in next two weeks.”
“Already agreed to 2% add on and 1% bonus in 18/19 & additional healthcare contributions.”
“Additional details negotiated at future date.”
I wonder about this process, because this is what your “contract”, your reduced healthcare costs, extra pay raise for paras, your raises, your bonuses, etc. depends on.  Ask a lot of questions.  Who is negotiating with who?  How does it work?  Are they required to provide minutes of meetings?   Are the meetings public?  Is whatever is agreed upon permanent or subject to change?  How long will it last?  Who decides?
A parcel tax is a flat tax, and so hits low income property owners harder than big corporate landowners.  $200 per year is nothing to Salesforce.  It will take a lot of work by UESF members to get it passed.  As a retiree, I’m ready to help.  I’m a little worried though because UESF members did not come out in droves to help with the fight to get Prop 55 passed, it looked to me like most of the leg work was done by SEIU and community groups.



Rejecting a tentative agreement

What happens?
When the members of a union reject a tentative agreement (TA), then the union and the employer go back and try again.  Its a fresh start.  The union can demand more than its previous bargaining positions, like more money or less testing or more prep time and it is not considered “regressive bargaining”.  Because the members have spoken strongly then it is unlikely that they will get a worse deal.

It may make the leadership look weak, but it makes the union look stronger.

It takes a majority of the members who actually vote to approve or reject a TA, so its important to vote.  In UESF the lack of participation in most elections or votes is a powerful vote by itself.  That’s why a handful of people in UESF make all the decisions and most UESF members don’t know that there are decisions to make, that they are being made, or that they have a choice.  They certainly don’t feel powerful or know that unions are powerful tools, inherited from past generations who fought very hard to get them.

Bargaining teams (BT) work for the members of the union.  They represent the membership in the negotiations, and then bring their TA back and offer it, and request the members approval.  That’s why its “tentative”, and why there is a ratification vote.  The members decide.