They are the teachers, school psychologists, nurses and counselors who work with the San Mateo County’s special needs students...and they have been working without a contract since Aug. 20.
“Morale is low and teachers are discouraged and frustrated,” said a teacher who is a member of The San Mateo County Educator Association (SMCEA), the union representing the special needs educators. She added that the group is prepared to take a strike vote if contract negotiations are not successful.
SMCEA consists of approximately 140 educational professionals who are contracted by individual school districts to serve students that the district schools can’t, or won’t serve.
Programs are provided for students with intensive needs, such as severe multiple disabilities, hearing, visual, orthopedic, communication and/or emotional disabilities or with autism.
Union leaders speaks out
“Through the years, as professionals, we have all learned new skills and devices, new software applications, and teaching techniques. We've mostly done this on our own time and at our own expense, as part of our commitment to our students and our careers. We work after school hours in the evenings and on weekends. We earn less than our counterparts in private industry, and less than our peers in district employment,” said Shelley Viviani, lead negotiator for the teachers’ union.
And Dan Deasy, union president says, "What I'm hoping for from Anne Campbell, our superintendent, will be to recognize the fact that we work with the toughest students in the county, and we should be paid and have benefits commensurate with the job that we do.
"I also hope that Anne understands that we have gone six years without a raise and that it doesn't help to say we can't afford to give teachers a raise at the negotiating table when the week before the county had put $7,000,000 into the reserve fund," added Desey.
SMCEA staff members work at several sites throughout the county: Early Learning Center, Gateway, Hillcrest School, Palos Verdes in San Bruno and in many special day classes housed regular district elementary and high schools.
Association leaders say negotiations with the San Mateo County Office of Education have broken down and they are now at an impasse.
On Wednesday night, members of the SMCEA will address the San Mateo County Board of Education on the following points:
1. The county has offered a one percent salary increase with no retro; the offer was made one week after the county board of education put $7M into reserve
2. COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for social security has gone up 12 percent since their last raise five years ago.
3. SMCEA has one of the worst benefits packages in the county.
4. County teachers work with students that districts can’t or won’t work with. When combined, SMCEA salary and benefits are at the bottom for total compensation.
5. Teachers frequently have to pay out of pocket to keep their classrooms going. The classroom budgets have gone from about $800 a school year to $100, yet the number of students remains constant.
6. The county has an aging teaching population. Many of the retiring teachers will be difficult to replace.
7. The county currently has $59M in reserve, which is about 80% of their current operating budget. State law only requires them to maintain a 5% reserve.
8. There are county classrooms that have 10-year-old computers, or no computers at all.
"Enough is enough"
“The time has come to offer this dedicated group of educators a fair, amicable, substantive contract package and let us all return our full attention to our passion for teaching, as valued workers who are treated as such,” said Viviani.
“Enough is enough. You have the resources."
Board meeting tonight
The regular board meeting of the San Mateo County Board of Education will be held Wed., March 6 at 7 p.m. at the San Mateo County Office of Education, 101 Twin Dolphin Drive in Redwood City. For more information, go to http://www.smcoe.k12.ca.us.