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A Reader Writes by William Estes: Setting the record straight on Imperial teachers' stance

February 04, 2002

I am writing in response to the letter written by Elydia Gonzalez, who criticized Imperial teachers efforts to gain a salary increase. Mrs. Gonzalez, your letter had many inaccuracies and I am hoping that given the real facts, you might reconsider your position.

As a member of the Imperial Teachers Association's negotiating team, I can tell you our proposal to the school district called for a 7 percent pay increase to the salary schedule and a 1 percent raise to our insurance coverage. When the school district insisted any new contract include two additional workdays, our union added an extra 1 percent to the proposal to cover the additional work days.

The school district's final offer was for two additional days at 6 1/2 percent to the salary schedule and 1 percent for insurance coverage. Given the two additional days, the district's offer is really only 5 1/2 percent, the other 1 percent the teachers are having to work for.

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Now Mrs. Gonzalez, you were concerned about how the Imperial Unified School District could afford such a raise. In the 2000-01 school year, every school district in California received an 8 percent increase in the base revenue limit. This amounted to an annual increase of in excess of $800,000 per year for IUSD. The district is also receiving a 3.87 cost-of-living allowance this year.

While many districts have used this new source of revenue to increase teacher salaries, IUSD has decided to keep it in its general fund. Using the district's own numbers, it has a projected ending balance of $2,468,182 for the 2001-02 school year. This is six times the amount required by the state for economic uncertainties.

Mrs. Gonzalez, let me assure you, the IUSD has the money to afford a teacher raise without compromising the education of Imperial school children.

So Mrs. Gonzalez, why should you support the Imperial teachers in their bid for a pay increase? As a teacher of nine years at Frank Wright Intermediate School, I have seen over 26 teachers come and go. This is an extraordinary large number considering the school has a faculty of only 18. This year alone we have six new teachers. At the district level, 25 percent of teachers are not fully credentialed, while another 7 percent are teaching outside their subject areas.

Why is it Imperial has such a difficult time retaining teachers and must constantly hire new teachers, many without proper credentials? It is because Imperial teachers are underpaid in comparison to other districts in the Valley.

In a study conducted by Darrell Gifford, a research and finance consultant hired by the California Teachers Association, he concluded, "The CBEDS data suggests that the district is not competing well for fully credentialed teachers, that it has become a training ground for new teachers who leave the district when they get a credential."

Mrs. Gonzalez, you believe other school districts can afford to pay their teachers more because they are larger. Every school district receives the same amount of money per student for average daily attendance. While larger districts receive more money based on having more students, they also incur more costs because of their size. So comparably speaking, everything evens out.

But for argument's sake, let's use your formula. Given the fact the IUSD is the fourth-largest school district in the Valley, we should be paid accordingly. In fact, being a unified school district, we actually receive more money per student for average daily attendance than the elementary school districts of El Centro and Brawley. Unfortunately, we fall well short when it comes to salary.

So then, why are so many Imperial teachers leaving? Let's compare salary with other school districts in the Valley that have already settled. Let's assume the teachers accepted the school district's offer of 6 1/2 percent. I would make $2,853 more if I were a teacher in the Brawley Union High School District. I would make $2,465 more at El Centro Elementary School District and $1,151 at the El Centro high school district. These figures are just salary. Add to the equation that a teacher in Imperial must pay out-of-pocket expenses of $436.12 per month for full family insurance. El Centro elementary and Calexico teachers receive full family coverage at no cost.

Imperial teachers rank 10th in the county for average salary. The result of experienced teachers leaving the district and being replaced by inexperienced is keeping the cost low. While this might be a great strategy in the business world, do you really want your child being taught by inexperienced teachers, teachers who are not fully credentialed or are teaching outside their subject area or have no student teaching experience?

Just recently, the IUSD settled with its administrative staff. Administrators received a 7 percent increase on the salary schedule and a 1 percent increase for insurance coverage. Mrs. Gonzalez, why is it administrators are worth 8 percent but not teachers?

Mrs. Gonzalez, I wrote this letter hoping the facts would help you reconsider your stance. We are neither greedy nor self-serving. We have families to support just like you. It is our goal to be paid a comparable salary with other teachers around the Valley. We hope with a competitive salary we will be able to keep experienced teachers in Imperial and stop the exodus of qualified teachers to other school districts.

>> WILLIAM ESTES is a social science teacher at Frank Wright Intermediate School in Imperial.

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