Opinion: Natomas Teachers Question Spending

Natomas Teachers’ Association president Cynthia Connell made the following speech during the union report to the Natomas school board meeting last week and has submitted it to THE NATOMAS BUZZ as an opinion piece.

Good evening. I don’t know where to start; so much has been said by parents and community members. I’m President of the NTA. I am also a teacher, and a Natomas homeowner for 23 years. For the record, in 2007-08 I started the school year with 44 students, and settled at 40. Those were some of my most successful students. Last year a colleague of mine had 43 students all year. (This was in response to the stated possibility and/or fear that a state admin could raise secondary class sizes to 40-45.)

While the state’s deficit certainly has impacted our financial picture, liberal and uncontrolled spending along with a lack of oversight are largely responsible for the downward spiral we’ve been experiencing. Natomas teachers are being asked for salary cuts to fix this crisis and help the district avoid state takeover. Tonight I’ve heard parents and community plead for us to please make cuts, put the past behind us and bridge the gap of mistrust.

Teachers have had no control over how the district money has been spent, and many voiced concerns over waste were ignored for years. Teachers asked the district to follow FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team) recommendations in 2003, and had no control over a lack of district response to numerous letters of concern sent by SCOE (Sacramento County Office of Education) several years later.

At board meetings I haven’t heard community or board members question the budget numbers that get presented… From an $18 million deficit in the spring to an $11.4 million deficit in September – that’s a difference of 33 percent; to a positive budget of $4.5 million on Oct. 25 – that’s 2 weeks ago, and 150 percent difference!

And now we have a deficit of $8.9M based on a new problem of cash flow. I appreciate Mrs. Plough and Terry Ryland taking the time to explain cash flow to me, and I encourage the community to learn what this is too. I think the majority of people don’t know the difference between the multi-year budget projections and cash flow. I’m continually dismayed by the passive acceptance of the budget numbers despite the insane fluctuations.

Our community and school board must appreciate why teachers raise an eyebrow of skepticism about giving up their salaries, when there have been no assurances by this board that uncontrolled spending WILL STOP. Our community must appreciate that teachers also do not want a worse situation here for our students or our neighborhood. I hope our community will stand with teachers to demand better fiscal oversight, less spending and zero waste as we navigate forward through this mess.

The Natomas Teachers’ Association demands that the board put its past fiscal mismanagement behind us. I hope our community understands that it’s a good thing that teachers have and continue to question the budget numbers and the financial decisions Natomas Unified makes. And finally, I hope the community supports our Natomas teachers as we try to work with the district through our current negotiations process.

Thank you.
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  1. We, as parents, do support our teachers. We appreciate their service and are thankful that they feel called to this profession. We are also appreciative of all staff – administratraion and classified staff and know that they also have had to take large cuts these last few years.

    I am very thankful for Bobbie Plough and feel that she is well liked and respected by teachers, staff and parents. If our employee groups choose state takeover, it is sad that Bobbie and her leadership will be gone. She has only had 3 month to set up a plan for fiscal management and has outlined a thorough plan which includes fiscal oversight by the County. They analyze our actual expendutures every month.

    We as parents, do support our schools both with our time and presence. Many families in our community have taken very large cuts in their homes, much larger than 7.9%. In this time of recession, cuts are happening everywhere.

    We need to keep control of our district in our district. We need to have a say in what cuts need to be done. Making $8.9 million dollars of cuts now will be easier than $20 million through a State loan.

    This is a one year contract – numbers will change, it is guaranteed. One of the complaints is that we didn’t follow the FCMAT recommendations sooner which would have been layoffs and paycuts sooner. If we don’t take the cuts now, just as what has happened in previous years, the cuts will only grow larger.

  2. Well said Elizabeth. NTA, get off your high horse and get to the bargaining table. Through no fault of their own everyone has had to take hits in this economy and your teacher are no different.

  3. daissig…if you think NTA is on a high horse because we aren’t at the table, you are misinformed…NTA has been at the bargaining table since the beginning of September…since before the district amended its numbers downward from $18M to $11M deficit, and again two weeks ago up to a positive $4.5M (but a negative $8.9M cash flow). One reason the district has readjusted their numbers is because at the table and in meetings NTA has diligently pursued accurate district accounting. As both chapter president and a homeowner here with family kids in district schools, I believe the district (including the school board) has a responsibility to me to provide accurate and not-misleading data.

    Certainly I agree with you …teachers are no different than everyone else, evidenced by the salary cuts we took in 2009/10 and 2010/11…there’s no argument there.

    A question I have, re cash flow, which I really need complete clarification on is (maybe you already know and so it isn’t a problem for you): since the district’s budget is balanced out for three years as of today, why is SCOE playing hard ball and not letting the district take TRANS loans like it has for years, and also why are they telling the district they can’t borrow from themselves which is a legal alternative and one they have also done over the past few years? Why are they so hell-bent on a State Loan, and all that entails?

    NTA is not the culprit here. We apparently are the saviour however, as it seems we’ve been painted as the only way the district can solve the problem. Everyone’s in a hurry to have NTA jump in and bailout the district. Why is it a problem for you that we are asking legitimate questions and waiting for legitimate answers. Or that we are demanding fiscal responsibility and oversight. The last thing I want to do is lead my membership to a hurried and unvetted, knee-jerk solution (which is the kind of thinking that helped get the district into this mess). We have taken a very rational approach to the problem and we have engaged in good faith bargaining. Mrs. Plough is not complaining that we aren’t at the table or trying to understand the problem in order to help solve it.

    Cynthia Connell, President NTA

  4. Very well said Elizabeth.

  5. Very poorly said Elizabeth! You don’t have enough facts to make a statement such as you did. What you need to do first next time is start by asking questions. You are correct that the district didn’t make cuts soon enough, but we wouldn’t have had to if our funds were managed better. We had a surplus of funds. As far as giving a concession for this year… the result is futile…if it isn’t this year it will be in next years to come that will eventually lead to a state take over due to the mismanagement. Furthermore, we are going from a 5.2% wage loss to now a 7.9%…it just keeps going up due to mismanagement of spending. When will the bleeding stop…or should we just keep sucking the employees dry until we work for free?

    Elizabeth, we all took larger cuts than what are being asked of us at this time. Not only did we lose out on 5.6% this year as well as last, but we also lost out and are being raped on our health insurance benefits. I will give you a great example – My husband and I both work in the district and we make way less than the teachers. We lost a total of $560 per month together. Now if that isn’t taking a hit I don’t know what is. Ask yourself if you can afford to take that out of your monthly budget. We had to stop doing fun things with our children, couldn’t go out to meals, cut expenses at home such as cable and cell phones and even had to modify our loan on our home in hopes of not losing it. So, don’t tell us that we are not taking enough!

    Furthermore, the district made the choice to back fill furlough days and did so with Certificated employees and paid them triple if not quadruple what that classified person would have been paid if they just didn’t have the furloughs at all. Ms. Plough which you speak so highly of was the ultimate decision maker in that. The employee who knew she shouldn’t back fill a furlough was ordered to and the district violated the contract. So, for a job that a Classified worker would do for $100-$130 per day was now being taken over by Certificated for about $400-$480 a day. What does that equate to? The district just handed over our money that we gave in a concession to the Certificated staff and to add insult to injury it did not help their fiscal crisis, but rather made it much much worse.

    So, all of my suffering that I am experiencing now due to giving the concession was in vain. It was worthless.

    The NTA as well as CSEA showed a kind heart when giving this great sacrifice and now it is a slap in the face. The district has and continues to mismanage its budget.

    On another note: The NTA is not on a “High Horse”. Rather, some and just some of the teachers are on that “High Horse” and are making it bad for those who really care and are working on a solution.

    We know as parents that it is not easy to sit back and listen to what is ahead. It may look like NTA and CSEA are not cooperating, but that is what the district wants you all to see. Did you really think they would come out and be honest and say, “Oh, by the way the unions gave concessions for years and we peed all of it away”…Yeah, I don’t think so.

    Trust us when we say that we are thinking of everyone in these circumstances. Employees, Parents and students.

  6. Ms. Connell: I read your post above with great interest because I was at the meeting where you presented this “speech”. Problem is, this is not exactly what you said at that meeting. Of course I understand that you were not working from a prepared script, and you were speaking from the heart, clearly upset by the comments that proceeded yours. I understand an exact record was not readily available when you prepared this Opinion piece.

    However, the part of your presentation that I remember most and that I could not find in the Opinion piece above is the part of your presentation where you told the Board that you (speaking for NTA) don’t trust the District. This caught my attention because I thought “Wow, if NTA does not have any trust in the other side of the table, how are they EVER going to reach an agreement?”

    Parents need to know that NTA gave us a majority of these board members. NTA has endorsed 4 of the 5 current board members – Kaplan in 2006 and Tran, Roberts and Heredia in 2008 – in their election runs for the Board of NUSD. NTA did not endorse anyone in the 2010 election, which leads to another question…why not? District voters might have been eager to hear who you think would do a better job…I know I would have considered it.

    You also express surprise at constantly changing budget numbers. This does not surprise me at all, as a budget is a working project, constantly updated as additional information becomes available, accordingly, constant changes (especially in the current economic situation) are not surprising. I am sure you will agree that it is very difficult to predict what the California legislators will do to school funding over the next three years.

    But the bottom line is this. The District has X money to work with (according to Trustee Burns ½ of funding received in the past is gone). A quick review of the District’s 2009-2010 financial statements (which are admittedly very difficult to follow so I may have my numbers wrong) of $60 million the District spends, $45 million goes to payroll and benefits. So, taking the emotion and the heartbreak out of the equation, where else other than salaries can the majority of the cuts come from? Even in the event of a State takeover, other than the one time loan they walk in with, they won’t have a magic way to increase revenue…cuts will still need to be made.

    My family does greatly appreciate our teachers, and wish that there was some way to magically make the District’s problems go away AND keep the teachers salaries where the contract set them. But, looking at the numbers I just don’t see how it is possible.

    I hope NTA can find a way to continue to move forward with the District. My family hopes that everyone can reach an agreement that will be tolerable for everyone.

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