agreed on a new two-year contract on Aug 31 2011. The agreement reiterates the union's commitment to policing its ranks via the merit pay system. It utilizes teacher time for non-teaching functions by implementing district control over early-release Wednesdays. The teacher workload is significantly increased by mandating that grades on assignments and tests be entered in the online Gradebook within 15 days.
The agreement also freezes teacher pay for two years. Taking the current rate of inflation so far this year into account, this is equivalent to a 3.6% salary cut for the teachers.
The union argues on the same lines as the district that "there is no money" and as such teachers have no recourse but accept lower pay for more work. However, a close look at the district budget shows that it is not a lack of money as a first principle but considerations and interests of policy makers that finally determine the state of funding for schools.
Teachers in Bellevue, just as teachers in other school districts and all across the country have been facing a systematic and sustained attack spearheaded by the Obama administration. The ideology for this attack is based on a false and ludicrous premise - that teachers are somehow responsible for the stagnant economy. This vaguely thought out premise holds that if teachers somehow were more successful, they will produce a smarter workforce that will be able to overcome the economic malaise.
However, the speculative nature of large hedge funds that culminated in the financial crash of 2008 is the immediate reason for the current decline in US economy. Rather than making the hedge funds pay for the crisis of their own making - both Bush, Obama administrations have spent trillions of tax payer money to prop them up. According to an "Associated Press" report, top CEOs of the nation made more in 2010 than 2007, when the economy was booming. For a layer of super rich, the recession has been a lucky stroke. It has allowed them to secure tax payer money for free or near zero interest, repossess land from bankrupt homeowners, drive down wages of employees that work for them and lower their individual and corporate taxes.
By deliberately ignoring the root of the criss, the Obama administration - just like its predecessor - asks the average worker, including the teacher to pay for this. This is the meaning of the term "shared sacrifice".
Thus all across the country, vital programs that working people and youth depend on are being slashed. Workers are being laid off across both the public and private sector. As the Obama administration continues to talk about creating an economy conducive to job growth, the federal government is planning on sacking 220,000 postal workers by 2015. States are not being helped and mass teacher layoffs have happend in Chicago, Detroit, NewYork City and elsewhere. While more than 100,000 teachers have been laid off across the country in 2010-11, a recent study published by the American Association of School Administrators estimates the loss of 220,000 education jobs for the 2011-12 school years.
The trade unions however have accepted this as the normal order of business. While pretending to be a movement for workers, the union has sided with the ruling class and helped keep the workers down and prevent the eruption of social struggle. AFL-CIO as well as American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA) follow the same prescription. The Bellevue Education Association (BEA), beholden to the dictates of the NEA is increasingly showing its support to the district and its determination to hold back the teachers from their struggle for a decent wage and good working conditions.
Even before BEA entered into negotiations with the district, they had signaled their willingness to police the rank and file teachers via the merit pay system. Even though the Bellevue School District was not chosen to pilot a merit pay system, BEA eagerly sought to join the district as it, along with the Washington Education Association (WEA) formed the "Teacher and Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP)". This clearly shows that the union is in agreement with the district on merit pay, they just want a seat at the table so that they can help implement such an attack on rank and file teachers.
If the union was actually opposed to the merit pay system, they would act differently. Rather than sit down with the district officials, they would have used the method of the Strike to demand teacher rights and a block on merit pay. They would recognize that teachers should unite across districts and then with the wider working class and move towards a General Strike.
Reading the notes published by the bargaining team of the union makes clear that the issue most important to the union leadership was getting a seat at the table to impose the merit pay system on its rank and file teachers. As we shall see, it was over this issue that the negotiations broke down.
The very first bargaining update on April 1 2011 mentions a team from the BEA working on a teacher evaluation plan. "Bryona Golding, Ingrid Saxon, Jenn Stevens and Michele Miller comprise BEA’s team focusing on the revision of the evaluation tool for Article 12. Since January, this team has been working toward the development of an evaluation tool with a focus on professional growth. State law mandates that all districts move to a revised, four-level rating system in 2013. Both sides agree on the need to take time to develop this new evaluation tool."
According to bargaining update #13 made on July 21 2011, negotiations broke down between the union and the district the day before, with the district requiring the mediation of the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). On this bargaining update, for the first time, we heard that the district was planning on excluding the union from designing the merit pay system: "BEA has proposed we join the Teacher & Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP) implementation consortium, so we can take advantage of state funding, project research, and the good work of the pilot school districts. The District wants to pilot immediately, prior to the release of the state’s recommendations and without the support of TPEP. Why would pilot an evaluation tool we might not even be allowed to implement?" (emphasis in original)
That the union was preoccupied with becoming a tool for the attack on teachers was further shown on their next update made on Aug 02 2011. The union was clearly worried that they might not get a seat at the table if they did not collaborate even more closely with the district. Almost the entirety of the union message was on this single issue as they continued to lament:
"The District wants to move forward in isolation, prior to the release of the state’s final evaluation requirements. The District’s insistence on piloting a new system in advance of the final TPEP recommendations would be premature, and would limit our ability to use the work of theTPEP project to guide us. Working outside the parameters of TPEP could lead to an evaluation tool we might not even be allowed to implement!"
By the absence of a contention in the merit pay plans, the bargaining update on Aug 26th shows that the union had been invited back to the table to implement the merit pay system. In turn, the union made the teachers give up some free time for early-release Wednesdays, enforced online grade reporting and a 3.6% pay cut considering inflation. The union also successfully blocked a strike. That was the price teachers paid in order to have the treacherous union leadership secure a role in the merit pay plan. Thus, in order to become a tool of the district in policing its own ranks, the district demanded of the union - and it agreed to - a further betrayal of the teachers.
However, it then became crucial that the union divert the anger and disappointment of teachers some other way. This was done by taking a no-confidence vote on the superintendent, a figure much despised by rank and file teachers as is shown by the more than 97% vote against her. The union here has taken a calculated risk knowing the deep unpopularity of the superintendent in both the teacher and parent community. However, the union did not lift a finger when Dr. Cudeiro fired hundreds of teachers and staff last year, nor when she closed Robinswood, a school for special-needs students.
If Dr. Amalia Cudeiro were to leave the school district in disgrace, teachers should view it as a victory for their persistent work in opposing her draconian measures over the past two years. A superintendent who leaves in disgrace is a liability to the ruling class, they will be less hesitant to use her again. But there should be no doubt that her successor would continue where she left off. Ultimately, it is not personalities that decide the turn of policy in the first instance, but stark economic factors.
If Dr. Cudeiro were to leave without substantial legal action against her, it is equally likely that she will continue her policies if given an opportunity again, in some other school district. Even though the ruling class would view her as a liability, they do realize that it takes considerable time grooming people who are apt at destroying the public school system, and she may still have uses for them. Similarly, some crook from another school district could become her successor right here.
When the PTSA sent out a community survey in March of 2011, portraying teachers in a bad light, the union instructed the teachers to not talk about this with parents. The union has always tried to isolate the teachers from parents and to promote the myth that there is a sizable body of "teacher hating parents".
On the contrary, Bellevue teachers have the sympathy of a large number of parents and community. When you went on a strike in 2008, the district wanted to use the legal system to get you back to work. Parents protested and the district was unable to use the law against teachers. However, the union proved timid - it made no significant attempt to grow the strike across school districts. Nor was an appeal made to the broader working class to join the strike.
While the 2011-12 budget does not anticipate any teacher layoffs for Bellevue, continued state cuts could likely change the situation. Teachers should prepare for a continued assault on their working conditions, wages, seniority rights, pensions. Placing trust in the union leadership will prove to be a dead-end. Forming committees of teachers to document the turn of events, including the betrayals of the union will be a key step. The moment a committee is formed, it gives the union notice and it provides a political framework for teachers to organize without the intimidation and demoralization of the union leadership.
A large segment of parents support teachers and find the success of their child in school directly connected to a good working environment for teachers. We reject the phony slogans of "Child First" uttered by the district, PTSA, LEV (League of Education Voters) and Stand (Stand For Children). This is a slogan designed by billionaires who want to portray teachers as somehow the enemy of our children. These are of course ridiculous claims, uttered by desperate people whose ways of swindling and profiteering on the backs of the poor is fast coming undone.
Ultimately, the union can't defend teachers as it is subservient to the Democratic Party, which just like its counterpart, is a party of big business. The NEA is busy trying to re-elect Obama - who spearheaded such a devastating attack on teachers and the BEA is undoubtedly trying to woo some other Democrat in the local elections.
As the past four years have clearly shown, teacher rights will not be protected by either of the two big business parties. Teacher rights can only be won by situating their struggle within the context of the struggle of the working class to achieve a degree of material comfort made possible by their contribution to society. The two big business parties and all their political affiliates should necessarily be counted as deadly enemies with whom negotiations will be fruitless.