Calif. Leaders Cut Deal With Teachers On Raising Pay

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California teachers were celebrating a deal with Gov. Gray Davis and legislative leaders last week that the teachers say should give them a belated share of the Golden State's booming economy in the form of higher salaries.

Under the May 9 agreement, the state would provide school districts in the coming fiscal year with $1.8 billion more in aid that could be used for teacher pay raises. In exchange, the state's most powerful teachers' union, the California Teachers Association, dropped its bid for a ballot initiative to force the state to raise per-pupil spending to the national average over five years.

Calling the $1.8 billion "a huge gain in one year," Barbara E. Kerr, the vice president of the union, said teachers had not reaped much of the state's financial bounty, which this year leaves California rolling in a budget surplus estimated at between $11 billion and $13 billion.

"This is what we've been working for. The teachers have not been part of the boom," Ms. Kerr said.

Democratic state leaders, including the governor and leaders of both houses of the legislature, also pronounced themselves well-satisfied with the deal. The agreement came in the wake not only of the union's threat to submit for verification the 1.4 million signatures it had gathered for the ballot measure, but also of a May 8 rally that drew thousands of teachers to the state capital, Sacramento. Teachers and others were protesting years of state budgets that have left California close to the bottom of the national heap for average spending per student.

"Teachers are still suffering from the recessionary cutbacks of the early 1990s," Gov. Davis, who took office last year, said in a statement. "[This] proposal repays California's debt in full."

Not Quite Everyone Wins

"It think this is a case where everybody was on the same page," said Terry Anderson, who advises Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton on education matters. "It's a win for everybody—teachers, kids, and school districts."

Republicans in the Democratic-controlled legislature haven't felt like winners, however. With an election looming the fall for all 100 members of the lower house and 20 out of 40 senators, members of the GOP tried to capture some of the limelight with an education spending proposal of their own. After the Senate tentatively approved a $1.4 billion increase for public schools the day before the agreement with the teachers' union, Senate Republicans called for an increase of possibly more than $3 billion.

A few days earlier, Gov. Davis had already mentioned that he might be willing to top $3 billion in additional operating aid to schools as part of the revised budget proposal that he was scheduled to submit to the legislature this week. The new fiscal year begins in July.

The California Teachers' Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, has calculated that even with as much as a $3.6 billion permanent hike in education spending, California would lag behind the national per-pupil average by some $1,000. The state earned a D-minus for the adequacy of its education spending in Quality Counts 2000, the latest annual report by Education Week on education policies in the 50 states.

Note of Caution

Some teachers who rallied at the beginning of last week, though pleased that the marathon negotiations with the governor and legislators had yielded pledges of a hefty pay increase, argued that the state still has a way to go before it can brag about its schools.

"People shouldn't feel like the battle's over and we can go home," said Barry Fike, the president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "This is significant progress to report. But education funding and student achievement are still not where we're satisfied with them."

In announcing the new money, Gov. Davis said it was, in a sense, what was owed to districts from the early 1990s, when the hard-pressed state failed to include cost-of-living salary increases in its basic aid to local districts. The $1.8 billion fills the hole left from those cutbacks.

While districts have the formal authority to spend the money as they would like, many superintendents—as well as teachers—say that the lion's share will go to teacher salaries. In part, that is because teachers' contracts commonly specify that state cost-of-living money must be passed on them. But it is also because of a widespread belief that teachers are underpaid—and that the state's teacher shortage will worsen without raises.

Superintendent Dave Coales of the Vista Unified School District north of San Diego said he was pleased with the prospect of additional money from the state.

"It really provides Vista Unified with relief," after having to absorb a 30 percent cut in state aid for instruction and a 40 percent cut in operating support over the past three years, he said. "It's a great thing for the state of California."

Vol. 19, Issue 36, Pages 22, 24

Published in Print: May 17, 2000, as Calif. Leaders Cut Deal With Teachers On Raising Pay
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