CUSD’s homework for parents: Read up on salary dispute

When Mike Rogers opened his mail last weekend, he found a packet from the Chico Unified School District about the teachers’ contract dispute. Rogers was not appreciative. He was downright angry.

Rogers, the father of a sixth-grader and three other children who went through Chico schools, resented being lobbied by the district—and with his own tax dollars.

“I get this big old thing in the mail, and I wonder how much money was spent on this?” he said. “I thought it was propaganda.”

The packet includes a letter from the superintendent and a copy of a six-page (double-sided) July 3 fact-finding report written by a “neutral” arbitrator (one of three members of the fact-finding panel). The district sees the report as agreeing with its contention that it’s making a fair offer in contract negotiations with the Chico Unified Teachers Association and that a higher raise would financially break the district. There’s also a copy of the district’s response to the teachers’ proposal for 2001-02 and a chart showing where its offer of a 4.76-percent raise would put salaries.

The letter, signed by Superintendent Scott Brown, asks parents to “take some time to look these documents over. Adoption of this salary schedule by the teacher’s union would place top paid Chico teachers in the number one position in Butte, Tehama, and Glenn counties.”

The letter also states, “I know you are concerned about any disruption in your child’s education—so am I. Any withholding of services by our teachers will cause upset and confusion for the entire Chico community.”

“We know these are difficult times and we are doing everything we can to settle this issue,” Brown’s letter concludes.

The district is hoping parents will see the packet—a future mailing with details on the CUSD’s financial state is being considered—as a helpful bit of education, not an attempt to sway them politically.

“The community has a right to know all of the facts, and they have a right to know the correct information that the district has about the budget,” said Rich Wallace, who is handling communication for the CUSD. This way, he said, the figures and message from the fact-finder are “unfiltered and unbiased and they can read it for themselves.”

He said the district has a legal duty to tell the public what the fact-finder found and about the financial status of the CUSD. “This is not a war of opinions,” Wallace said. “We just wanted to share a complete version of the neutral’s report.” Indeed, the district didn’t leave off the union representative’s opinion of dissent.

Dan Sours, president of the teachers’ union, said, “I’m frankly pleased that they sent out the fact-finding report.” He said the union couldn’t afford to send out copies itself, and there are elements in the report with which CUTA agrees. For example, it sees the arbitrator’s statement that the union should accept “no less than” a 3.87 percent raise for 2001-02 as a starting, not an ending point.

But Sours said most parents he’s heard from were more confused than enlightened by the mailing. “'Why are they bargaining with me?’ is what I’ve heard,” he said. (The latest bargaining session, Aug. 6, failed to reach a resolution.)

Wallace said it cost $3,910 in postage—not counting staff time or photocopying—to mail the packets to the district’s 11,500 parents.

Rogers said he fired back with a letter of his own, telling Brown in not-so-nice terms that he didn’t appreciate the packet and the letter full of right-wing “double-speak.”

"I think they worked the numbers to make it look like the money’s not there," said Rogers, who contacted the News & Review to complain. "I’m for the teachers getting the raise they want."