A Cautionary Tale: QEIA Waiver Denial

On Wednesday, January 11, 2012, the California State Board of Education (CSBE) denied the waiver that the Vallejo City Unified School District had requested in regards to QEIA funding. Most of us who went to Sacramento to testify knew going in that it was a long shot. None of us believed that it would be decided as quickly as it was by the CSBE with only one Board member stating her reasons as to why she had to vote no on the waiver.

It needs to be at the outset that Superintendent Dr. Ramona Bishop provided the CSBE with a well-defined plan in order to right the ship. I strongly commend her for her tough message to the CSBE and for her willingness to take responsibility for this situation – a situation that was not created by her.

In meetings that I had with her regarding our presentation to CSBE, she expressed a willingness to work with VEA if the waiver was denied for Vallejo High School and Cooper Elementary. It was also stated to me that it is anticipated that lay-offs for this year may be minimal due to attrition. VEA will continue to push for being part of the lay-off process as well as ensuring that the contract is followed for teachers impacted by any involuntary transfers.

That being said, this denial serves as a reminder to the District the crucial piece that had been missing during previous administrations.

First, last year the California Teachers Association (CTA) issued a report, “Lessons From the Classroom: Initial Success for At-Risk Students” . One of the essential components for those schools that were most successful was the willingness of district administration to work with teachers and their unions in order to engage in essential and meaningful collaboration. This meant that most of the decisions made were site based driven and not driven from the top.

As many of you know, there has long permeated in this district an unwillingness to engage in meaningful collaboration and an outright refusal to work with the union in order to make working and learning conditions better for our students and teachers.

Second, one of the arguments that the District made in order to try to secure the waiver for QEIA funding was the lack of stability at school sites. It was argued that this instability had a severe impact on their ability to meet the API goals for QEIA. While VEA recognizes that none of us could have imagined the severe economic impact of this recession, let it be said that were a couple of options that the HR Department could have chosen in order to mitigate the instability.

For instance, VCUSD could have used the language in Ed. Code that allows for “skipping” any unit member that had received specialized training and/or is providing specialized services. This is the language that districts across the state of California use in order to “skip” special education teachers and more significantly, it is the language they used to “skip” our colleagues who teach at Vallejo Charter School. While VEA recognizes that this option is controversial, it is still an option available to the District through Ed. Code.

When the District chose to ignore this route, they also made the unfortunate decision to not work with VEA when it came time to bring people back from the rehire list. Instead, the HR Department made the decision that when people were brought back, they would be placed wherever they had an opening for them. Some of our teachers who had only taught primary, now suddenly found themselves teaching at the middle school and conversely some of those who had only taught middle school, now found themselves teaching elementary. No one, except for VEA, thought it was prudent to ask teachers what they wanted.

At Cooper, this meant a significant change in their staff at the start of the 2009 school year, where they saw 9 brand new teachers out of a staff of 28.

When I spoke to the CSBE on Wednesday, I expressed that I was cautiously optimistic. VEA has often fought for maintaining stability at our school sites when possible. This is because we believe that through stability, long-standing, trusting relationships are developed and built upon. This stability transmits to our students, which ultimately leads to our students performing at the very best of their abilities.

If we are all truly here for the kids, then it is of absolute importance that we work together.