From the 12.22.10 issue
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By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer
Dozens of teachers packed the Northern Humboldt Union High School District board meeting on December 15, protesting a proposed $2,000 increase in their health insurance costs.
Wearing black and red T-shirts and carrying signs, teachers addressed the board of trustees for more than an hour, saying that the steep increases were unaffordable, and were poor payback for the countless unpaid hours that most teachers donate to their jobs.
“I not only teach every day but I also travel from one campus to another during my prep period. I coach, I advise a club, I help students and proofread papers during my lunch period, and I often grade papers and prep for classes until after midnight,” said Beth Anderson, a language arts teacher.
“I don’t do this for the money, but I do have to be able to provide for and support my family,” she said. “This is money out of our household budgets.”
Some teachers, whose hours had been reduced, found that they could no longer afford health care premiums, because they were now part-time workers, who had to pay a larger share of the cost than full-time employees.
“I cannot go to the doctor or the dentist, or buy medicine,” said Rebecca Kendall, a foreign language teacher at McKinleyville High, who said she could not afford a $465 monthly insurance premium on a part-timer’s salary.
Teachers also complained of dire working conditions, and of feeling compelled to donate their free time to helping students, because classes were too large to give kids individual attention.
Cindy Condit, a science teacher at Arcata High School, told the board that she donated at least “105 unpaid minutes” a day to helping students, because her classroom was never empty, even during lunch and break periods.
“That’s 35 days of free time that you are getting from me every year,” she stated. “How many of you donate two full unpaid months to your personal jobs?”
“Class sizes are at the bursting point,” commented Allan Edwards, a teacher at Mack High. “We are doing more work for less money.”
Wylan Simpson, the student representative from Arcata High, told the board that he no longer felt comfortable asking teachers for help after classes, because they had so many demands on their time.
Edwards wondered why the district could afford to pay six-figure salaries to some of its administrators, but could not absorb a greater share of rising insurance premium costs. He also wondered why the district had not shopped around for a cheaper health plan.
Doug Johnson, a social science teacher at Arcata High, asked why the district could afford to remodel its office but couldn’t afford to fix the school photocopier, which was so bad that exams had to be postponed.
Other teachers spoke of becoming disillusioned and feeling burnt out by overwork.
School administrators replied that they were doing the best they could, in the face of unparalleled budget cuts from the state.
Loreen Farrell, the Director of Fiscal Services, explained that the governor had budgeted funds for schools but did not have the money to back it up, so he simply delayed some of the payments until the following year. Under these circumstances, if the school district is to meet its million dollar payroll every month, it must maintain a large reserve fund.
Last year, the school district used some one-time federal stimulus money to help with the cash crunch, and also cut some programs.
“We cut the Adult Ed and the Community School program, and that’s the money we’ve been using to make the payroll for the cash flow problems,” stated Superintendent Kenny Richards. “The problem isn’t budget; it’s cash flow.”
Measure Q issues
The district is currently waiting for the County Election Board to certify that the school bond was passed. At that point, the district must establish a Citizens Oversight Committee, whose purpose is to make sure that the district is spending the bond money appropriately.
“You can’t incur any expenditures until those things are put in place,” Richards said.
Although some teachers had hoped that Measure Q funds could be integrated into the school budget, the money can only be used for the specific purposes listed on the ballot measure, and cannot be used for salaries or ordinary operating expenses.
Some people wondered how the projects listed on Measure Q will be prioritized, who decides on the priorities, and who will appoint the oversight committee members.
Several people argued that Arcata High School should receive the lion’s share of the Measure Q funds, because it is twenty years older than McKinleyville High School, and presumably in worse shape.
District officials said prior to the passage of Measure Q that the money would be spent equally between the two schools.