The PUSD Community received the Superintendent Update – PUSD's Financial Situation dated April 9 and again in a PUSD Community Message dated April 22. In order to make sense out of the questions and observations flooding in from many members and associates, this message is an attempt to respond to several areas addressed by Mr. Gundry and to clarify UTP's position.
This message is delivered in the context of a rhetorical discourse. A working definition for Rhetoric describes it as "the study of how writers and speakers use words to influence an audience." A rhetorical analysis breaks a work of non-fiction into parts and then explains how the parts work together to create a certain effect—whether to persuade, entertain, or inform. While I will not question the Superintendent's reasons for the email message on the District's financial situation, I would like to comment on a few points that were presented in order to clarify some of the information.
The Superintendent seemed to be intent on communicating that the employees have created and are perpetuating the budget problems in the PUSD. The areas he targeted were Salary, Health Benefits, and Furlough Days. Following are some Talking Points in response to Mr. Gundry's message.
Furlough Days: Mr. Gundry once again tried to pit union against union by holding up APSA's agreement to furlough days as a cudgel to bully CSEA and UTP into agreeing to furlough days. This ridiculous comparison is made more ridiculous when one considers that most APSA members do not directly work with students on a day-to-day basis.
Health Benefits: The Superintendent stated that the "maximum annual cost of health and welfare benefits for a PUSD teacher...was the highest of any school district in LA County... and the highest when figured as a percentage of a teacher's salary . . . . With no cap on benefits, this cost will continue to rise . . . ." First of all, only 21% of our members are enrolled in the plan mentioned. (See the chart on page 4 of the UTP newsletter, The Voice, for a breakdown of employee health plans.) Secondly, if health benefits are such a high percentage of our salaries, then our salaries are too low. (See pages 4-5 of The Voice for a comparison with similar districts.) Furthermore, employee out-of-pocket cost continues to rise as well. In fact, for the past two years, it was the employees who picked up the increase in cost.
Salary: The Superintendent also condescendingly implied that it is the employees themselves who are siphoning off the District's revenues. However, there have been no salary increases since 2007, and Pasadena's teachers are among the lowest-paid when compared to teachers in comparable districts (see again the charts on pages 4-5 of The Voice). Approximately one-third of UTP members will receive a salary increase due to step and/or column, and there are no salary increases for teachers between their 11th and 16th year, between their 16th and 21st year, nor after their 21st year. Members are increasingly subjected to increased workloads due to larger class sizes and to high turnover (layoffs!) but are not being compensated.
Declining Enrollment: This District continues to be subjected to declining enrollment, yet it still plans to operate its administration as if it is a district with 10,000 more students, which is the approximate number of students who have left the District over the last 10 years. We realize that staff numbers must be commensurate with student population; however, that should be reflected in numbers of administrators as well. (See the chart on page 6 of The Voice for a comparison of pupil to administrator ratios.)
Cuts Must Be Fair: UTP presented additional ways to help balance the budget through cuts other than those directly affecting the classroom. These proposals were never intended to replace the District's plan to balance the budget in its entirety, but rather to help preserve class sizes and counselor ratios through more equitable distribution of reductions. While our proposal for administrative cuts would not balance the budget, it would save the high school librarians, nurses, and/or counselors who directly impact our students.
There are studies that indicate that we do not forget the first information we receive. Whether it is corrected later or not, we still remember the initial information distinctly. It is my intention that our members, parents, and community at least have accurate information on which to base our opinions in order to extend our thinking and inform our decisions.
We are in this together!
[UTP is affiliated with the 325,000-member California Teachers Association and with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.]