Thursday, June 13, 2024

CUSD Update: Teacher Negotiations Stalled; Kids Plead for Therapy Dogs; Classified Employees of the Year Honored

Coronado teachers pleaded for better pay in alignment with the high cost of living in San Diego, referencing higher salaries in other districts. The comments, made at the May 16 board meeting of the Coronado Unified School District, mark stalled efforts between the district and the Association of Coronado Teachers (ACT) to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

This comes in the middle of a budget crunch, as the district has already finalized eight staffing cuts and will likely make more. According to the district, exhausted COVID monies, declining enrollment and decreased CoLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) from the state are threatening to thwart a graceful transition to Basic Aid in 2027-2028, when CUSD will be fully-funded by local property taxes.

But the teachers’ union says the cost of living in San Diego is too high and their salaries are too low. They say they need help now if they are to continue delivering the high-quality education that the district promises.

Gisele Renly, who’s been teaching for 14 years and currently works at Silver Strand Elementary, spoke on behalf of the teacher’s union.

“I’m here because I’m worried,” said Renly. “I’m worried about our staff’s ability to afford basic needs in San Diego. I’m worried about our districts’ ability to retain quality teachers. I’m worried about our students’ mental health.”

Gisele Renly said that other San Diego school districts, on average, pay 10% higher than CUSD.

She said that teachers in Coronado are paid 11% less than the state average and 10% lower than the county average. According to Renly, this has led to retention problems, as now 23% of the teachers in the district have less than two years in with CUSD.

“We are only asking for 10%,” she said. “Our teachers, staff and students who make up our communities deserve better.”

Jodi Judd, a second grade teacher at Silver Strand, said this year the district’s team hasn’t been very compromising when it comes to resolving the bargaining agreement. She says the district has more than $20 million in unrestricted funds it could use to support teachers.

“The common sense voice inside of me is wondering why more progress hasn’t been made between the parties to support those of us closest to our most valuable asset, which is our students,” said Judd. “According to the data, we clearly have the funds to not only accept our union’s terms but also to reinstate the eight positions you recently agreed to cut.”

Teacher Jodi Judd says the data shows that CUSD has the funds to increase pay for teachers.

But the district says that, if it were to increase teacher pay 10% as requested by the union, it would make CUSD insolvent (bankrupt) by the 2026-2027 school year.

A slide from the district slideshow explaining its take on teacher negotiations.

“To say that we have $21 million in unrestricted funds is inaccurate,” said Donnie Salamanca, CUSD Deputy Superintendent. “The ACT proposal would put CUSD in the hole $8.3 million by 2026-2027. That’s compared to the current negative $1 million in the bank. This only compounds the difficult decisions the district would have to make.”

In addition, according to a FAQ slideshow created by the district, in order to meet ACT’s current salary demands, CUSD would have to cut programs like bus transportation, CoSA, Elementary PE, electives, STEM or VAPA programs.

A graphic from the district’s slideshow on teacher negotiations.

Trustee Scot Youngblood said it’s hard to compare salaries from one district to the next. In addition, some San Diego County districts have already made it to Basic Aid.

“It’s hard to compare one contract from one school district to another, it’s not just the money, it’s also the prep time the teachers get, their ancillary duties, their benefits,” said Youngblood. “From my standpoint, we want to try to maintain programs and the quality of education, and we don’t want a huge reserve fund when we land at Basic Aid.”

Trustee Mal Sandie agreed with Youngblood, saying that once CUSD gets to Basic Aid, it will no longer be dependent on the State.

“We’ll get to keep our own tax money, and we’ll be more like the Palo Alto school district, which I think is the gold standard,” said Sandie. “They are a Basic Aid school district where they are self-funded. We are trying to get there. We just need a few more years to do it.”

Community Members Speak Up about Counselor and Teacher Cuts

Four students expressed concerns about the counselors being cut, in particular, CMS counselor Rebecca Rabe and her popular Therapy Dog Program. One student emptied his pockets and tried to give the trustees his money to support the program, while another brought in a zip-lock baggie of money he had earned from fundraising on his own.

Declan Russell, a 7th grader at CMS, said that for a while, he didn’t want to go to school. But CMS counselor Rebecca Rabe and the therapy dog program changed everything.

“Ms. Rabe is always there for me,” said Russell. “She is super supporting, caring and always helpful. She even gives up her lunch to help me and the other students. Now you’re trying to lay her off.”

Declan’s mom said he was really struggling, and Rabe was the only one who could talk to him and encourage him. She said he’d had different therapists every single year for speech and occupational therapy.

“There’s no consistency, and that’s what he needs,” she said.

Bryson Sebring, another CMS student, asked the district to reconsider the counselor layoffs. Bryson’s dad shared that watching his son get up and address the board was one of his defining moments of fatherhood.

“I can tell you that Ms. Rabe almost single-handedly made that possible,” said his father. “Changing one kid’s life … it’s worth figuring it out. Please try. ”

Martha Protzman, a reading specialist with Silver Strand, said she was concerned that her program was being cut and the effect it would have on the struggling readers. She invited the board members to visit her classroom before her classes end.

“I teach seven classes of reading a day which will be eliminated,” said Protzman. “You should never cut reading anywhere.”

Trustee Antrim said that she would be taking these concerns with her to Sacramento as a representative of the California School Board Association.

“These are hard decisions,” said Antrim. “And these are the hard decisions we are here for. Nobody wants to cut anything … in Sacramento, I will relay the budget issues and who it is impacting, and how. Your advocacy matters.”

Board Recognizes CUSD Classified Staff Members of the Year

The Board also celebrated the Classified Employees of the Year for 2023-2024. These employees are essential in helping students find success in classrooms, creating welcoming front offices, keeping technology running smoothly and campuses clean and secure, according to Donna Tripi, the CUSD Director of Human Resources.

Employees awarded were Arden Gillberg from Coronado High School, who was also named District Classified Staff Member of the Year; Liz Josset from Coronado Middle School; Lani Shanefelt from Village Elementary; Frankie Guillen from Silver Strand Elementary; and Jorge Mejia with Maintenance and Operations.

Jorge Mejia from Maintenance and Operations, Arden Gillberg from CHS, Frankie Guillen from Silver Strand Elementary, and Lani Shanefelt from Village Elementary were honored for their service as classified staff members. Liz Josset from CMS was not there and would be honored in a private ceremony

Board Meeting Reports

Jennifer Landry, the president of the Association of Coronado Teachers, spotlighted the NJROTC program at CHS, commonly referred to as “Islander Company.” She said the organization helps develop cadets in the areas of leadership, self-discipline, teamwork and community service. The Islander Company recently spent a weekend aboard the USS Midway Museum, complete with behind-the-scenes tours including flight operations.

Landry also shared some concerns about the dual enrollment programs, including absent or tardy professors, as well as worries about communication during teacher cuts.

In his report, Associated Student Body President Wyatt Riebe shared that preparations were underway for the Silver Sand Luau (held May 17), and that Anchored for Life students are working on an action project about resolving conflict. He said that Biz Town at Village Elementary was a big success, and both elementary schools are gearing up for CAASPP testing. CMS 8th graders had a great trip at Seaworld and Powderpuff practice is happening at CHS.

Other Board Happenings

At the start of the meeting, Laura Wilkinson thanked the CHS “Stop the Sewage Club” and the members of the board, acknowledging their advocacy in the cross-border sewage crisis. Community members are still invited to drop off letters at District Offices; a template is available here.

Matt Heinecke, the CHS band director, brought his band to perform two musical performances, “Simple Gifts” from the Shaker colonies and assorted music from the Blues Brothers film. His band recently received a Unanimous Superior rating at the California Music Educators Association Band and Orchestra Festival.

The next school board meeting of the Coronado Unified School District will take place June 6th at District Offices at 4pm.

Christine Van Tuyl
Christine Van Tuyl
Christine was born and raised in Texas, but moved to Coronado with her family as a teen in 1993. Although initially horrified by surfers, flannels and skateboards, she ultimately grew to love all things So-Cal. A graduate of UCSD, Christine got her first writing job on the KUSI ten o’clock news while simultaneously juggling a reporter position at the San Diego Community News Group. She worked as a public relations professional, a book editor, real estate professional, and a freelance writer before eventually succumbing to motherhood in 2008.A decade later, Christine resurfaced to start the Island Girl Blog, a Coronado lifestyle blog. In addition, she writes a monthly page for Crown City Magazine. Christine loves hanging out with her husband, Ian, and their two spirited daughters, Holland and Marley, who attend Village Elementary and Coronado Middle School. When she’s not working, you’ll find her practicing yoga, spilling coffee at school drop off, meeting friends for sushi, or sailing the Bay with her family and English Bulldog, Moshi. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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