By Tom Ovens
Seventy-five or more Vallejo teachers filed in to Tuesday’s school board meeting. They presented a litany of classroom woes and a strong plea for higher pay. In addition to the teachers, there were several others from the community at large with similar storIes about unruly classrooms. The boardroom was packed to overflowing. The board members were quiet and seemed stunned at what they were hearing.
In the past when such complaints were made regarding classroom security, the board members have claimed the incidents were isolated cases or even fabrications. They could not so easily discount the barrage of horror stories that they were hearing on this evening.
The focal point of the teachers’ message was that teachers make a difference, not programs. The corresponding problem is that Vallejo does not have enough teachers. Scores of classes still have no permanent teacher and many substitutes do not have credentials in the subject they are teaching. It was pointed out that close to 100 teachers left the district this past year.
The teachers listed three reasons why Vallejo cannot attract and keep teachers:
- The pay is 10% lower than the next lowest paid district in the area;
- Classrooms are often unruly and even unsafe;
- Teachers are not valued or respected by the district.
The individual stories of teacher after teacher were gut wrenching. Some said they have been told not to suspend students who were out of control. Others told of providing necessary materials out of their own pocket because the materials were not available. Many who grew up in Vallejo and want to stay teaching here said they have to leave because they cannot support their families on what they are paid.
Very telling points were made such as that most districts devote 61% of their budget to teacher’s salaries while Vallejo devotes only 44%. While student population has declined since the year 2000, the number of administrators has increased. The board members were urged to do whatever is necessary to give the teachers a competitive salary. The district has a 3 ½ % reserve which is ½% beyond what is required. It was suggested that the ½% ,or any grant with only one year funding, be given as a one- time bonus. They insisted that experienced teachers, not lovely programs, are the key factor in getting to the root of and solving classroom problems. Great programs are nice but it’s the quality teacher that makes the difference.
One speaker said that Vallejo is not only losing teachers, it is losing students. It’s a matter of income. Families that have the means find other educational opportunities. Private schools are costly but an obvious choice for many, who sacrifice in many cases, in order to put their children into a more positive learning environment. That speaker’s assertion was echoed throughout the room when he said that families with children avoid moving to Vallejo because of our schools.
Feeling that they are honored as a person and that their opinions are valued, ranked high among the teachers. They said over and over that they do not feel heard and respected as professionals who have creative ideas and work beyond what is required under extremely trying conditions. Those trying conditions are sometimes out of control students. The board members were urged to put specially trained Resource Officers on campuses immediately.
More than one speaker expressed irritation about the 21 page booklet that is being widely distributed which presents the district as a wonderful model. It is filled with buzz words and beautiful glossy pictures. They said that the educational plan is great but the implementation is sorely lacking so the booklet is a gross distortion. One speaker insisted that the timing of the booklet suggested that it was put out as a campaign piece for the incumbents. His question about the cost of the booklet was met with a very vague response from the trustees.
The trustees and superintendent definitely got an earful. It could have been worse. No chairs or objects were thrown at them as the teachers insist is sometimes their experience in the classroom.
View the October 1, 2014 School Board Meeting: