15 Sep 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by apennyforyourwraps
Patch Instagram photo by apennyforyourwraps
Patch Instagram photo by apennyforyourwraps
Patch Instagram photo by apennyforyourwraps
Patch Instagram photo by apennyforyourwraps
Patch Instagram photo by apennyforyourwraps
Patch Instagram photo by apennyforyourwraps

OPINION: Capo Students Were Left Out

Reader says no one was representing the children when unions and the district agreed to chop as many as 18 days off the school calendar and increase class sizes.

OPINION: Capo Students Were Left Out

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from a letter sent to officials with the from Dawn Urbanek, who believes the district did not go far enough in publicizing its . The district maintains it widely disseminated information to stakeholders at 25 meetings in the past year. Patch obtained a list of those meetings and has attached it as a PDF to this opinion piece.)

The community has a high stake in our public education system.

The negotiations by school employee groups, such the Capistrano Unified Education Association (CUEA, representing teacher), the California School Employees Association (CSEA, representing classified, non-teaching employees), the Teamsters and unrepresented employees (CUMA, management) greatly influence events in the classroom and have an impact on the overall cost of education. 

When local school boards and employee groups meet at the negotiating table, the decisions made are of great importance to the quality of education provided for students. While negotiations are usually conducted in private meetings between representatives of the school district and its employee groups, the public must be provided with an opportunity to study the issues, evaluate their impact on the educational system, and have an opportunity to participate in the budget process though budget workshops and public hearings.

The district’s DUTY to inform the public about district finances and the collective bargaining process take on special importance during tough economic times when the interests of employee groups are at odds with those of the students. 

I was one of only a handful of parents that attended the June 27 school board meeting. I witnessed firsthand the conduct of the district as it took a vote on the teachers’ contract. This item was listed on the agenda as a "discussion" and "action" item. Protocol ( Roberts Rules of Order) was not followed. 

In fact, the actions on the part of the president of the board, Trustee Gary Pritchard, and vice president of the board, Trustee John Alpay, displayed a clear intent on their part to prevent any discussion of the district’s employment contract with the CUEA. of president and vice president of the board also showed a clear intent on their part to prevent fellow trustees from making public comment about the contract "on the record."  

As a result of their conduct, and the board’s subsequent approval of employment contracts, children in CUSD have been substantially harmed. 

Children Harmed

The harm that my child and all the children of CUSD will suffer as a result of the board’s actions on June 27 are substantial when compared to the "harm" that district employees will suffer as a result of the approved contracts.

It is often argued that the majority of education expense is the cost of staff. That is why employee compensation in most school districts averages 80 percent of a district’s budget. At CUSD, we have, for many years allocated well over 90 percent of our budget to employee compensation while choosing to defer maintenance, cut programs, increase class size, and shorten the school year with furlough days.

Because of the ongoing downturn in our state economy, CUSD has been forced to cut $150 million dollars from what was once a $480 million budget (a 30 percent cut), while . See salary information here and CUSD-specific cuts at the end of this letter. 

The Capistrano Unified School District has shown us time after time that it values adult jobs above the education of children. As equal parties to these contracts, I hold Superintendent Farley, district staff and this board responsible for not compelling union leaders to accept concessions that put the interests of children first. Unfortunately, in CUSD, there is no one sitting at the collective bargaining table who represents the children.

Even parents in this district are handicapped from being a voice for their own children because they have been purposefully excluded from the collective bargaining process; a violation of the Education Employment Relations Act.

The Education Employment Relations Act provides for public access to the collective bargaining process. Called the "sunshine" clause, it mandates that all initial proposals of any contract negotiations between the employee group and the school district shall be presented at a public meeting of the board of education and that a "reasonable" time shall elapse to allow for public input before negotiations start.

Parents in CUSD were not given any opportunity to provide the district with meaningful input into how cuts should be made to the district’s shrinking budget. The result was an all-cuts budget that protected employee groups at the expense of the education of our children. See California Government Code Employer-Employee Relations Act Article 8. Public Notice Section 3547 Public Meetings; Public Records  3547-3547.5

The (Non) Role of the PTA

Parents, once able to rely on the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) to represent the interests of their children in district matters, can no longer do so. The PTA, which is chartered as an “advocacy organization" has been transformed into a "fundraising organization;" and should be forced to change its corporate charter to reflect the role they now serve.

It is misleading for parents to rely on the PTA to advocate on behalf of their children if the PTA is no longer following its own corporate charter, by-laws and mission statement. 

Recognized as a "children's advocacy organization," the PTA has been given special privileges in school districts. The PTA is allowed to send informational flyers home in student backpacks; the PTA is also allowed to pull children from the classroom for fundraisers (i.e. jog-a-thons).

The PTA is also invited to sit on district committees (i.e.: the Calendar Committee) as a representative of the children in place of the public. Because the PTA has special access to parents through their children, it is very important to make sure that the PTA strictly follows the PTA Toolkit (the authority for PTA action). 

Section 4.5.57 Public Involvement in School Governance, pages 163 – 172, clearly defines what the conduct of the PTA should be when it comes to public school employer- employee negotiations.

The PTA's failure to act in accordance with the PTA Toolkit has substantially hurt the children in CUSD.  See theToolkit here.

Had the PTA acted in accordance with PTA Toolkit Section 4.5.57, the PTA would have notified parents and the public about the terms of the proposed contracts and the June 27th Public Hearing regarding the budget and proposed cuts. Parent participation at the public hearing was minimal, because most parents were never notified by the district or the PTA. 

Capistrano Unified School District Historical Budget Cuts2006-2007 & 2007-2008 $10,500,000 2008-2009 $20,500,000 2009-2010 (April 2009) $ 25,600,000 2009-2010 (September 2009) $   7,800,000 $33,400,000Fiscal Year 2010-2011 ReductionsProgram Reductions (5-11-10) $ 5,500,000 Eliminated Positions (6-29-10) $ 2,465,000 Salary Concessions      CUEA  $ 19,700,000      Teamsters $      490,000      CSEA  $   5,334,000      CUMA  $   1,470,000 Salary Restorations - All Groups $ (8,250,000) $26,709,000 Cumulative Total 2006-2007 through 2010-2011 $91,109,000 2011-2012 Projected Reductions $ 6,900,000 Total Reductions  $98,009,000 Reductions June 27, 2012 $51,000,000Cumulative Total$149,009,000

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