Teacher contracts inked at first CUSD meeting for new superintendent

New Superintendent James Elsasser presided over his first meeting of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education on Friday, July 12 in a gathering highlighted by the approval of new agreements between CUSD and district employees.

These include the contract for the Claremont Faculty Association, which was renegotiated in its entirety, as well as contracts for the California School Employees Association and the Claremont Management Association.

The superintendent’s brief tenure has been busy.

Mr. Elsasser shared he has attended 32 meetings, toured local school sites and stopped by a Kiwanis meeting with board member Steven Llanusa. He noted, with some bemusement, that he even rode a float in Claremont’s Fourth of July parade.

“It’s been a great 9 days. I appreciate the warm welcome.”  

It’s also a new job for Dave Chamberlain, English teacher and speech and debate coach at Claremont High School. He stepped up to the podium as the new faculty union president to ink the agreement between the district and local teachers. Sycamore Elementary School principal and Management Association president Amy Stanger signed the contract for the district’s management employees.

The agreement between the district and the faculty union was reached on June 9, surprisingly fast considering the contract was entirely revamped this year.  Many districts continue negotiations well into the summer.

“We were very pleased with the positive and professional tone of negotiations this year, which was a change from years past,” Mr. Chamberlain said.

Significant changes in the contract include an overhaul of the district’s teacher evaluation system. Previously, the protocol was a “cumbersome” 150 pages, a length that made it unlikely new teachers and principals would read the document closely, Mr. Chamberlain said. As a result, teacher assessment has come to vary widely from school to school.

A new evaluation system,  streamlined 8 to 10 pages, was instituted. It is very clear about procedures for assessing teacher performance and responding to negative evaluations, the faculty union president emphasized.

A welcome addition to the contract is a pledge that, next year, the district will contribute more toward teachers’ health insurance premiums. Mr. Chamberlain estimates the average faculty member pays $350 out of pocket per month for coverage for their family. Next year, that number may drop as low as $240.

The faculty felt comfortable asking for the commitment because teachers have contributed significantly to the district’s healthy reserve fund, which is about $10 million, Mr. Chamberlain said.

A few years ago, CUSD suggested teachers take furlough days. In the face of waning state funding, many local districts have cut their school year by 3 to 7 days.

Uncomfortable with the idea of a shortened school year, Claremont teachers agreed to take a pay cut commensurate with the money the district stood to save with fewer school days. For the past 2 years, local teachers have taken a $150 per-month pay cut, an amount that represents $1500 per year for each teacher. That agreement has now expired.

“We have a very strong academic program in Claremont Unified, and we do not want to lose any days of instruction,” Mr. Chamberlain said. “We could have taken those days off. I think the community can appreciate a sacrifice like that.”

The faculty union asked for a permanent increase in CUSD’s contribution towards health insurance. The district has agreed to provide one year of relief.

“They’re reluctant to make any permanent increase until there’s some resolution to education funding in the state,” Mr. Chamberlain said.

The faculty union president took a few moments after the meeting to talk about Mr. Elsasser: “First impressions are great.” Mr. Chamberlain said he enjoyed his recent meeting with the new superintendent.

“He was very gracious and asked a lot of questions, trying to get a sense of the district and the community,” Mr. Chamberlain said. “He was very open to what we had to say.”

Many people in the country are not open to the views of unions, Mr. Chamberlain admitted.

“There’s some sentiment in this community and nationwide that unions are the problem,” he said. “Our position is that it’s unions that maintain the middle class in this country.”

Virtually every teacher in Claremont is a member of the faculty union. One of these was represented in the school board meeting when Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources, delivered a quarterly report on Williams Uniform Complaints within the district. The Williams Complaint process provides a uniform procedure for staff and students in districts across the state to address possible unsafe facility conditions, among other issues. 

Mr. Ward shared that a teacher, who has asked that their name be withheld, has filed 2 Williams Complaints with the district. In the first of these, filed on February 29, 2012, the complainant requested that several 700-quad classrooms at Claremont High School as well as the library be inspected for water damage and the presence of mold.

Inspections revealed the presence of mold in one of these classrooms, as well as in a sizeable swath of wood on an outdoor overhang in the 700 quad. The district has addressed the issues in this first complaint and considers the matter resolved, Mr. Ward said.

The complainant filed a second complaint, essentially asking the entire school be inspected for water damage, mold and other maintenance issues. The complaint is being addressed this summer, he noted.

—Sarah Torribio




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