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Turlock teachers demand respect
Union filed five Unfair Labor Practice Charges
TUSD pic
Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto walks through a crowd of teachers who gathered before Tuesdays Board of Trustees meeting to demand respect and better treatment from the district. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

An estimated 250 teachers gathered to the tune of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” before Tuesday’s Turlock Unified District Board of Trustees meeting in an effort to demand just that from the district.   

“We want to make the board and superintendent aware of our concerns and by being here, we want them to know that is more than one teacher who is concerned,” said Turlock Teachers Association President Julie Shipman. “We are dedicated, educated professionals and we should be treated as such.”

TTA, which represents over 700 teachers in the district, has filed five Unfair Labor Practice charges with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) over the past two years. Included in the charges is a claim made by TTA that TUSD has denied salary credit to teachers for completing post-graduate coursework and professional development courses, both of which are intended to enhance teaching skills.

TTA has also accused TUSD of refusing to provide information regarding the transfer of a number of teachers two days before the start of a new school year, which ultimately disrupted and hurt the educational environment of students and teachers.  In response, PERB claims that the district disrupted the educational process and violated contractual obligations.

TTA has also filed a complaint against TUSD regarding the district’s refusal to negotiate with members of the association regarding the implementation of Common Core State Standards, as well as its elimination of teacher preparation time used to grade final exams and compute grades.

“Simple things like the implementation of CCSS is a lot of work,” said Shipman. “Yet, we have only been provided with one professional development day.”

According to Shipman, the straw that broke the camel’s back is the district’s recent proposal to have teachers stay on campus until they have completed all professional responsibilities as determined by site principals. These responsibilities can include curriculum planning, conferences, and remediation and enrichment for an individual student when deemed appropriate.

“The Turlock Unified School District’s unconscionable violation of state law is harming our students, undermining the educational mission, and hurting teachers,” said Shipman. “The District has become increasingly more and more difficult to work with over the last five to six years."

Terri Pinkney, California Teachers Association staff consultant for the TTA, was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting to present to the Board information she had gathered that compares TUSD with other school districts in the area.

“Turlock was once a premier district that attracted and retained quality educators,” said Pinkney. “However, Turlock is no longer a leader when looking at the ability to retain teachers.”

According to Pinkney, this reputational decline can be attributed to a multitude of factors, one being that the district has the second lowest paid health cap at $5,406. TUSD also ranks significantly lower when considering teachers' out-of-pocket expense for health care, which can total up to $22,446 annually.

This is the highest amount paid for health care when considering all districts in Stanislaus and Merced counties. According to the teachers who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, this is a major factor that can be attributed to their dissatisfaction with the district.

To testify to this, Julien Elementary School fifth grade teacher Glenis Zuhlke came forward to share with the Board her personal story with the district’s health care. Previously, Zuhlke was on her husband’s health care plan, which she believed to be very affordable.

When her husband passed away this summer, Zuhlke was forced to pursue the district’s plan.

“I basically had to tell my 21-year-old daughter, who is eligible to be on my plan, that she would have to go out and find her own because I cannot afford to go with this district plan that was comparable for my family,” reported Zuhlke.

Pinkney went on to point out that certificated teachers in TUSD are becoming less of a priority in the district’s budget, declining from 45.96 percent of total outgo in the 2010-2011 to 40.94 percent of total outgo in 2014-2015.

Overall, TTA alleges that the district has refused to bargain with its members in good faith, which could lead PERB to declare TUSD as a “renegade district.” Once determined a “renegade district” teachers are allowed to strike against the district’s behavior.

“We want the Board to see that we are united and that we want negotiations to move forward,” said Turlock High School special education teacher Doug Cornfoot, who was present before Tuesday’s Board meeting. “We just want to reach a settlement that works for both parties.”