Thursday, November 2, 2006
Stepping out of closed session, Hartnell College Board President Steve McShane tells the dozen or so teachers in the room that it will be another half hour before the trustees finish reviewing the unionized instructors’ contract.
They have already waited more than two years for a new contract, and the crowd sighs at another delay.
Then the door to the Salinas community college’s boardroom closes behind McShane, locking him out of the closed-session meeting he is supposed to be running.
While teachers laugh, he nervously knocks on the door until he is let back in.
McShane is not the only trustee who is in an uncomfortable position following a five-day long strike at Hartnell that started Oct. 20.
Despite their unanimous approval of a four-year-long contract on Oct. 26, teachers with the Hartnell College Faculty Association are still livid at the board for allowing the campus to become divided by a picket line.
Association President Christine Svendsen says she wants to recall trustees Brad Rice and Kari Lee Valdés, both of whom were elected in November 2005.
“I don’t want anyone on that board to be comfortable thinking that because they got elected they are not a target,” Svendsen says.
Rice, who has represented South County as a trustee for about nine years, says people should look at what the board has done as a whole and not just at what she calls a “bump in the road.”
Valdés, who represents central Salinas, declined to comment about potentially being recalled.
After two years of negotiations, the college and union agreed to a 3 percent raise for fiscal years 2004-05 and 2005-06, and a 5 percent raise for 2006-07.
This 11 percent raise bumps up the earnings for full-time teachers by between $6,000 and $7,000 a year, says Peter Calvert, a member of the union’s negotiating team.
This means full-time faculty will earn about $58,722 or $73,000 a year—depending on who is providing the numbers. Teachers’ average salary has been a point of argument since before the new contract was approved.
The union said full-time faculty earned an average of $52,722 a year while a California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office report put Hartnell’s average salary at about $67,000. Both sources, however, put Hartnell’s pay toward the bottom of the state list.
The new contract also says the approximately 150 unionized teachers will receive a pay raise equivalent to the state’s cost of living adjustments for 2007-08.
Moreover, the college will cover an increasing share of health care benefit premiums.
Hartnell administrators say that coming up with this money isn’t going to be an easy task.
The school soon will have to pay out about $1.6 million in retroactive pay for the 2004-05 year, says Larry Carrier, Hartnell’s vice president. From 2005-06 through the end of this fiscal year, the college will spend about $1.9 million for teacher’s salary and benefit increases, Carrier says, adding that Hartnell will have to grow enrollment by 675 students through the 2008-09 year to offset the costs of the contract.
Additionally, college officials say budget cuts are likely to occur to meet the obligations of the contract.
But the real challenge for Hartnell’s administration and Board of Trustees is to regain confidence from the student body and teachers after the first teacher strike at a California community college in more than two decades.
Before voting for the contract on Oct. 26, Trustee Bill Freeman says he is ashamed to be a board member.
“I believe we had numerous opportunities to resolve this issue that we have before us, and we chose not to as a board,” Freeman says.
Freeman and Trustee Juan Martinez have been the two dissenting votes on the board, consistently siding with the teachers. Faculty accuse the other five board members of toeing the administration’s line.
Trustee Aaron Johnson says the contract discussions took place in closed session. He says that contrary to public opinion, board members have listened to the faculty.
Union President Svendsen deliberately yawns during his speech.
“Why the yawn?” Johnson asks.
“Can I answer that?” Svendsen replies.
“No.” Johnson says.
“Don’t ask a question you don’t want an answer for,” Svendsen says.
After Board President McShane taps the gavel for adjournment, Hartnell Superintendent Ed Valeau interjects.
Valeau says he regrets the severed ties with the teachers. Then he shifts to the third person: “The president accepts responsibility for that.”
Standing up to face the faculty, Hartnell’s president makes a cross-shape with his hands, saying the college can continue the infighting or move in another direction.
“The contract is signed,” Valeau says. “The money is coming. The question is what are we going to do as a president and as a faculty?” He says the crossroads for the college is transitioning leadership once he retires. His contract expires in the summer of 2009.
“Ho, ho, Valeau wants to go,” Valeau says jokingly, imitating chants from the faculty.
After the meeting, English teacher Lourdes Villarreal says she is still upset that teachers were forced to strike in order to get the pay raises.
Villarreal says the teachers should be focusing on student learning, but at the same time looking ahead to the November 2007 election to get some new leadership on the board.
McShane, Johnson, Freeman and Berna Maya are up for reelection next year.