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Tahoe-Truckee teachers voice concern over communication, funds

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District teachers voiced concern last week over a lack of communication and demanded inclusion in helping decide how the additional $2 million expected from the state be spent.

At the second meeting held for the public to give input on new monies from the State of California, teachers took the floor to recommend that much of the money should be used for salary increases. The increases, according to the teachers, are the way Gov. Gray Davis intended the monies to be spent, citing a Sacramento Bee article and other news reports.

“It is our hope that those in control of this one-time funding will have as their top priority the original intentions of this funding,” Truckee Elementary School teacher Nancy Schaeffer read from a letter signed by school staff. The letter cited a May 10 Sacramento Bee article, and claimed Gov. Davis stated his intent that the monies go towards school salaries. “We hope that all concerned will keep in mind the spirit of the Governor’s intent for the allocation of the unprecedented, one-time money. It is our desire to retain our high quality employees, our exemplary programs, and to keep all the salaries of our district employees competitive with other districts.”

TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma said that he had read that article and found no statement in that article or from any other source that Gov. Davis said all of the new monies should go to salaries.

The May 10 article reads as follows: “‘Even though our economy is booming, teachers are still suffering from the recessionary cutbacks of the early 1990s, ‘ Davis said in announcing the deal.

While the money could be used for any number of purposes, a substantial portion is expected to be used for teacher salaries.

‘That’s a decision that each school district will make,’ Davis said. “Some may spend it on school safety, more books or salary increases.'”

Some teachers at the meeting expressed concern that Gemma was seeking input from the community before hearing from the teachers.

“We decided as a group we needed to know what was going on,” said Bobbie Andrs, a third grade teacher at Truckee Elementary. She said the first time some teachers heard about the money from the district was in a letter to be sent home to parents by students asking for their input in how to spend the new money. Because of the multitude of staff meetings scheduled at the end of the school year, the staff did not meet on the issue until the day before the June 1 meeting.

At the meeting, held in the Tahoe-Truckee High School auditorium, teachers from various campuses outnumbered parents and community members (approximately 45 to 15) in the audience, and some parents said they were frustrated and surprised at the negative tone the meeting took.

“I thought it was a meeting to discuss different options for spending this money, and it turned out to be a meeting where teachers seemed to want all the money,” said Pam McAdoo, a TTUSD parent.

She said her priorities for next year’s budget were more Advanced Placement classes at Tahoe-Truckee High School and more honors classes at the middle school level so gifted students had more options, which she wrote down and submitted to TTUSD Board President Suzanne Prouty before leaving the meeting.

She said when the meeting first started, she turned to a person seated next to her and asked if she was in the right meeting.

“I was just so frustrated and felt like we weren’t getting anywhere,” she said. “I felt as though teachers were taking an adversarial approach and I wanted to talk about programs, not just teachers’ salaries.”

Gemma said he received phone calls from a few parents the next day who told him they were too intimidated to speak at the meeting.

Andrs said that Truckee Elementary staff wanted the letter read at the community meeting so the public could be informed of their needs as well.

“It was important to us that we get some recognition for what we do,” she said. “We wanted the public to know how we felt and that’s why we went to the public meeting. It was not meant to be negative at all.”

Gemma said he too was surprised at the tone the meeting took and explained that the intent of all three meetings was not to ask the public about teachers’ salaries, but to hear from the community beyond teachers’ salaries what should be added to the budget.

“I was surprised at their (some teachers) belief that I was somehow pitting the teachers against the community, and that has never been my intent. My intent is to create an open process for decision making that includes the community and the parents,” he said. “I think that in the end the meeting was helpful in that inaccurate assumptions were clarified and more information did get shared. It was unfortunate that parents that did attend the meeting did not have the opportunity to gain information the teachers already had.”

Gemma explained at the meeting that districts throughout the state are spending the $1.8 billion released by the state in a variety of ways. Many may use the money for teacher’s salaries, as well as school safety, materials and increased programming, Gemma said.

He explained that there are three ways to cover mandatory increased costs a district faces each year: using new discretionary money given to the district, spending down the budget’s reserve or cutting programs.

“For the first time, all three options are available to us, when in the past the only option has been to cut programming,” he said.

He said contrary to the tone of the meeting, he believes he is in agreement with the teachers who spoke out.

“It’s my expectation the majority of this money will go to employee compensation,” Gemma said. “I have great faith in the negotiating team that they will allow for some of this new money to remain for other district needs beyond salary increases.”

A letter was sent out to TTUSD Budget Advisory Committee members, who include employees from each site, on May 17, which indicated the administration at each school site would conduct a workshop at their schools to collect input from teachers and classified staff.

Gemma said he conducted three community meetings to gain insight on what their priorities are for next year’s budget, aside from salary increases, which are negotiated in separate, private meetings between the district and the negotiating team. The meetings were requested by board members to help include the public in the budget process, Gemma said.

At the meetings, parents, community members and TTUSD employees were given a wish list of more than 65 items, which mostly centered around either school facility maintenance or technology needs, and also had the opportunity to add to the list.

Adding lower class sizes for grades 4 and 5 from 28 to 24 was the most popular item, according to data collected from all three meetings. Other priorities included adding a district level technician for repair and maintenance of technology, increasing the teacher work year three days for staff development, bringing back funds for instructional supplies and various other cuts to schools and departments.

According to Andrs, teachers don’t expect all of the new funds to go to teachers’ salaries.

“[The superintendent] was asking what we thought the monies should be used for and our answer was teachers’ salaries, not all of it, but part of it,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter how many programs you have, if you don’t have good teachers teach them, they won’t be successful. And you need good salaries to attract good teachers.”

Andrs said that the TTUSD is fortunate to have a lot of credentialed, quality teachers and that she and her colleagues would like to keep it that way.


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