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SACRAMENTO BEE – August 26, 2020

A wasted summer: How the Sacramento teachers union leaders are hurting your kids

BY MARCOS BRETÓN for the SACRAMENTO BEE

AUGUST 26, 2020 05:00 AM

A little more than a week until the scheduled Sept. 3 start of instruction at the Sacramento City Unified School district and we still have no distance learning plan for how to teach more than 40,000 SCUSD kids remotely. This is because three teachers union leaders won’t make a deal.

They are the leaders of the Sacramento City Teachers Association and their names are John Borsos, David Fisher and Nikki Milevsky.

Unlike other teachers union leaders from neighboring school districts, none of these folks are currently teachers in a classroom. And in the case of Fisher and Milivesky, they are paid six-figure salary and benefit packages by the district to perform union activities only. Why? Because that deal was first arranged in 1999 by long-gone SCUSD board members.

While other districts, such as Natomas and Twin Rivers, worked for days on end in July to reach their deals with their districts, the leaders of SCTA have refused to do the same. According to a timeline compiled by SCUSD, the district on July 10 offered to provide a stipend for teachers to help their colleagues develop lessons that are accessible online.

SCTA rejected it. The district made a distance learning proposal on July 16. SCTA did not agree to meet with the district until July 28. That was four days after Natomas had already made a distance learning deal with its teachers union.

On July 27, SCTA wrote this on its Facebook page: “We have not had an opportunity to speak with the district regarding their recent proposal for school this… fall.”

I believe I speak for all parents when I say: “Why not? “

Then, on that same July 27 FB post, SCTA complained that the district was proposing more teaching minutes in the fall than the education code requires.

Yes! The education code is the bare minimum. Yes! Parents like me were terribly worried that distance learning in the spring was substandard, that kids weren’t getting enough instruction or social/emotional connections with teachers and classmates.

I would wager that every parent has a story of how horrible the spring semester was, how working parents were pushed to the limit while trying to do their jobs at home while also worrying that their kids weren’t getting the school time they needed.

This is not to mention those parents who lost their jobs altogether.

DISTANCE LEARNING IS FAR OFF

SCUSD said that SCTA did not offer a distance learning counter proposal at the July 28 meeting. And aside from posting something about Oakland schools on its Facebook page on July 31, the SCTA page went dark. Then on Aug. 15, one day less than a month after SCUSD made its first distance learning proposal, SCTA posted on Facebook that it had presented something called “student focused” distance learning.

It proposed slow-walking the start of the school year. Mind you, SCUSD starts later than other school districts already because SCTA refuses to start earlier like other districts. But now it proposes actually delaying the implementation of teaching schedules until Sept 14.

What do they propose to fill the time from Sept. 3 to Sept. 14?

“Professional development including implicit bias training and more to combat institutional racism,” according to the proposal.

So SCTA’s “student focused” distance learning plan is to provide professional development to a majority white teaching corps while a student population that is 39.8 percent Latino, 19.1 percent Asian and 13.9 percent African American waits until Sept 14 for full instruction to begin? How does that combat “institutional racism”?

Actually, one could argue that this situation perpetuates institutional racism.

Led by Borsos, who has a horrible reputation for bullying and abusing his opponents, SCTA said in an Aug. 14 letter that it can’t meet every day with SCUSD on distance learning because it is otherwise occupied preparing for arbitration hearings against SCUSD.

SCTA and SCUSD currently have five arbitration cases, with SCTA having brought four of them. No local teachers unions file as many arbitrations as Borsos, Fisher and Milevsky.

In its Aug. 14 letter, SCTA said it could focus fully on distance learning with SCUSD if both sides agree to drop their arbitrations. The one arbitration the district filed was to get SCTA back to the bargaining table to hammer out a new contract that would stave off financial insolvency next year.

The two sides must hammer out a successor contract or face a takeover by the Sacramento County Board of Education. A takeover of the district would be a disaster for everyone, including teachers.

So Borsos is asking the district to make this choice: Go forward with an arbitration designed to get SCTA to the table to negotiate a deal that would save the district from insolvency or go forward with negotiating a distance learning plan for instruction.

Isn’t that what you would call a Sophie’s Choice?

But don’t listen to me or anyone else, make up your own mind based on what you already know.

The issue of looming insolvency has been known for more than a year. Yet Borsos and other SCTA leaders have demonstrated no urgency to make a deal that would prevent it.

We’ve known for months that we couldn’t return to school safely this fall, that distance learning was a reality, and yet Borsos and SCTA didn’t even sit down with the district until after neighboring districts such as Natomas had already made a deal.

And now, a little more than a week before the start of school, SCTA is saying it can’t focus on distance learning until the SCUSD drops its arbitration designed to save the district from insolvency.

I’ve spoken with teachers union leaders from neighboring districts recently, and I’ve spoken to others in the past, and there is no love between them and management. Some neighboring union leaders in those districts seriously dislike their superintendents, don’t trust them at all.

But they made distance learning deals anyway.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. There is supposed to be tension between teachers unions and management. No one is demanding these people be friends or even friendly.

The issue here is that SCTA leaders are different from leaders from other districts.

Would honest brokers with the best interests of kids at heart behave the way Borsos, Fisher and Milevsky have in the middle of a global pandemic? No way.

As an SCUSD parent, I don’t blame my teachers. They are great and I fully support them having good union representation. No, I blame Borsos, Fisher and Milevsky.

ARBITRATION RULING

But again, don’t take my word for it. Just last week, SCUSD prevailed over SCTA in a critical arbitration to the future of the district.

The issue is: Finding a better, less expensive health plan for teachers that would help the district bring down costs. This is one of the most important issues to resolve to avoid insolvency. This disagreement between the SCUSD and SCTA predates Jorge Agular, the current SCUSD superintendent.

In fact, according to a state arbitrator’s decision in SCUSD’s favor last week, this dispute dates back to 2014 – three years before Aguilar arrived in Sacramento.

Why is this point important? Because almost since he came to Sacramento from Fresno, SCTA has tried to paint Aguilar as the problem with the district. Truthfully, SCTA demonizes every SCUSD superintendent and Aguilar inherited years of bad blood he didn’t fully appreciate when he arrived.

Aguilar tried to be a nice guy in the face of an immediate strike threat when he arrived and paid for it dearly. He agreed to a flawed contract brokered by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg in the fall of 2017 with key terms that had not been defined.

The result? SCUSD had to pay higher teachers raises than it originally thought – exacerbating SCUD’s financial woes.

Aguilar learned then that he couldn’t, as a fresh arrival in Sacramento, walk into a room with Borsos by himself.

That fact was proved in a ruling against SCTA last week. At issue was this: Borsos and SCTA claimed that any savings that could be found in changing health care plans would go to SCTA’s bargaining unit.

SCTA has been saying this for years in defiance of logic. But if health care savings were handed over to SCTA, it would not be savings and could not be used to keep the district from going insolvent.

Arbitrator Carol A. Vendrillo cracked Borsos on that one: “At the center of SCTA’s case is Mr. Borsos’s testimony about the December 12, 2016, negotiating session. He testified he explained to the assembled bargaining team members that a reduction in health plan costs achieved other than from a change to a health plan would be applied to the bargaining unit.

“There is no testimony from anyone other than Mr. Borsos on this point. Neither Ms. Milevsky nor Mr. Fisher corroborated the assertion made by Mr. Borsos. Of the thirty SCTA bargaining team members at the December 12, 2016, negotiating session, none was called to bolster Mr. Borsos’s account.”

Vendrillo went on: “No bargaining notes were produced to corroborate Mr. Borsos’s testimony that SCTA explained that any savings caused by a reduction in health care costs, however that came about, would accrue to the bargaining unit.

“In sum, the Union asserts it is entitled to all savings that are derived from healthcare costs regardless of when or how they are realized. That is contrary to the parties’ agreement…For the reasons expressed above, the grievance filed by the Sacramento City Teachers Association is DENIED.”

OUR KIDS’ FUTURE AT STAKE

So where does that leave us?

SCUSD wants more hours of instruction than SCTA does. It wants all classes on Google Classroom, so everyone is on the same platform. SCUSD wants students taught based on essential standards. SCTA has proposed,”When possible, classroom teachers will emphasize the essential standards typically taught in that time period.”

Why is that not good enough? Because unless the standards are spelled out explicitly, Borsos has proved he can’t be trusted.

Get the picture?

It is time for parents and teachers to demand that Borsos, Fisher and Milevsky stop playing games with our kids and with the future of our district. You can call them at (916) 452-4591. It’s time for parents to demand that Dave Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education, intervene before any more time is wasted. He can be reached at (916) 228-2500.

It’s time for Sacramento to prove that all the talk about combating institutional racism and inequality is real. What’s more important to equality than public schools that prepare kids to achieve it? Does Sacramento really care about that?

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