In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, some of our administrators have sent emails with student’s sharing their appreciation, quotes from philosophers, and a limited few stated how important we are to them and our school. Those of us who have been here awhile know these emails are often sent during Teacher Appreciation Week. While we appreciate sentiment, we are frustrated that the compassion expressed this one week of the year rarely translates to policies and treatment that express true appreciation for the contributions CAVA teachers make every day. In fact, if our administration truly meant what they stated in their emails, then they would stop their delay tactics and meet us at the bargaining table.
Deanna Haynie said, “[Our] dedication, support, care, and love are truly what makes our students the luckiest in the state!” She’s right! We are some of the most dedicated educators in California! We noticed problems within our school and began to find ways to improve the education of our students. To quote Cathy Andrew from an email she sent on the topic of Teacher Appreciation, “Our students are with us for only a short time, yet that time is powerful – the connections that we make, the school culture that we build, the instruction that we provide – they set the tone for the future”. We agree with Cathy and would like to begin plans for a better future for our students instead of continual delays by the administration and K12. April Warren thanked us for the grace we have extended to her when she lets us down, “Thank you for grace you extend to others, including me, when they or I let you down”. April Warren, we ask you to not let us down when it comes to our students and school. It is time for all administration to put aside their differences and come together for the betterment of the school.
As we eagerly await our Teacher Appreciation email from our Head of Schools, Katrina Abston, we will continue to hope that this year Teacher Appreciation Week will end differently than it has in years past. As stated further in April’s Teacher Appreciation email, “…[making] a commitment to change is difficult for everyone and the uncertainty that change brings causes all of us to question ‘am I up for this?’ When I asked myself that question I came to the understanding that it isn’t about if ‘I am up for this?’ It is about ‘we.’” This year, we hope our gift from the administration is not a bunch of nice words, but an invitation to work together and meet at the bargaining table. We ask the administrators to stand by their words in these emails, listen to the voices of the teachers, and bargain in good faith for a fair contract.
The time is now for the CAVA administration to show their true appreciation for teachers.
The Labor Radio station, a pro-worker show that airs on numerous radio stations in dozens of states, interviewed California Virtual Academies (CAVA) teacher Sarah Vigrass and aired a segment April 29th about our unionizing fight at CAVA. The story also promotes our drive to get the public to sign our #fixCAVAnow petition demanding that management come to the bargaining table and stop delays. The Labor Radio station is part of the Workers Independent News operation based in Wisconsin.
This week CAVA’s management company K12 Inc. held its third quarter earnings call with executives, reporting revenue growth of 4 percent “year over year” and operating income (profit) of just about $19 million for the quarter. On the conference call, recently-hired CEO Stuart Udell expressed his delight with being one of the newest members of the K12 executive team as well as his excitement about what he sees as K12’s potential to deliver for students. It’s no surprise that Udell, whose pay and employment depends on improving K12’s stock performance and investor satisfaction, presented an extremely optimistic front as he speculated that K12’s fourth quarter will be even better.
This despite a rough start for the company’s current fiscal year – one that essentially began with a shareholder revolt that resulted in the voting down of K12’s executive compensation proposal, CAVA teachers delivering a report card of straight F’s to K12’s leadership for its failure to invest in students and teachers, the removal of Nate Davis as the company’s CEO, and sharp criticism of the for-profit company following the release of a series of studies pointing to problems with virtual charter schools due to weak oversight and the industry’s misplaced priorities.
But, if you ask Stuart Udell, at K12 everything is awesome. This is an interesting contrast to the doom and gloom the company sought to broadcast as early as last week in response to the recent articles published by the San Jose Mercury News, which raise very serious questions about how CAVA and K12 are using the public education dollars they receive – millions of dollars intended to provide instruction to our kids but instead funneled out of the state. CAVA and K12 have yet to respond to the actual merits of the news story, instead opting to blame it all away on teachers who have stood up for our students by forming a union. Hmmm.
Oh, and speaking of contradictions, did you know that one of K12’s newest ventures is in partnership with – wait for it – a labor union?! That’s right. Executives on this week’s conference call also touched on their excitement around K12’s Destinations Career Academy – a new technical education online high school in Wisconsin that offers a construction apprenticeship program in partnership with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139. Imagine that – K12 seeking to deliver for students in partnership with organized labor.
We sincerely look forward to the day decision-makers at our school embrace a partnership with teachers and our union too – not only for the benefit of shareholders and the bottom line, but for the success of CAVA’s students. Now, talk about awesome.
Recently we learned that CAVA teachers would be receiving a 5% raise. While our teachers certainly deserve and welcome this news, we can’t help but wonder what the motivation was behind this unexpected increase. Employers (especially those like CAVA who are managed by a for-profit corporation) don’t just give money away without a reason. Some of us question whether this was an attempt to placate teachers and try to weaken support of our union. After all, CAVA and K12 have made it crystal clear they are hostile to teachers have no real voice in decisions.
Whatever the motivation, we believe it is a step in the right direction but not enough. Our colleagues deserve a decent salary. As long as we are compensated well below the average of what teachers receive in California, turnover will remain too high. This destabilizes our school and disrupts our student’s learning. Also, while salary is important to all CAVA teachers trying to make ends meet, it is just one among a host of issues we seek to address in our union contract. Among other concerns raised in recent bargaining surveys that our colleagues filled out:
- Less administrative duties to allow teachers to focus on teaching.
- Job security and due process.
- Clearly defined and communicated policies that remain consistent rather than changing every year and sometimes mid-year.
- Implementation of a BTSA program to support new teachers.
- Lack of a professional salary schedule.
- Standardized evaluation procedure and criteria for raises
- A clearly laid out salary schedule.
- The ability to advocate for students without the fear of reprisal.
Currently, CAVA teachers do not have a voice in these matters, or in any aspect of our school operations. We are the ones on the front line. We see how the problems in our school are hampering student success. We would love nothing more than to work with administration to fix these problems; to create a place where students thrive and teachers want to work. We urge our administration to stop delaying and set a date to meet at the bargaining table.
Effective February 8, 2016, K12’s CEO will be Stuart J. Udell. Udell is a long-time education industry executive, most recently serving as CEO of Catapult Learning, LLC. He has also worked for a variety of other education firms, including Penn Foster Education Group, Kaplan, and Renaissance Learning. Udell is currently on the board of the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, a program of Clemson University focusing on dropout prevention and increasing graduation rates in American high schools. According to a recent K12 Inc. press release, Udell comes to the company with vast operational experience in the education industry and after having almost doubled Catapult Learning’s revenues “by focusing on maintaining high education quality standards and introducing technology-based offerings”. Udell replaces Nate Davis, who will become K12’s Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors.
We hope Udell will seize the opportunity to make needed changes in K12 Inc.’s priorities. More focus and resources must be given to our classrooms. Also, teacher turnover is too high. It is past time that CAVA’s great and professional teachers are compensated fairly. This is especially important now that there is a teacher shortage. So many of our colleagues are leaving to take jobs in either virtual or brick and mortar schools in other districts or charter schools. Teacher turnover creates instability which is bad for our students.
We communicated the urgent need for improvements to shareholders when a delegation of CAVA organizing committee members went to Washington DC in December. We see the appointment of a new CEO as a step in the right direction. Though we don’t know what specific plans are in store for CAVA as a result of this change, we believe Stuart Udell should take advantage of the opportunity to work with us to make our school better for our students. We are hopeful, but rest assured, no one in the Organizing Committee HQ is holding their breath!
On December 16th, K12 Inc. held its annual shareholder meeting in Washington D.C., and five of our colleagues traveled there to deliver a report card of straight Fs to Nate Davis and the K12 board of directors. Our message was simple: CAVA and K12 are failing our students and teachers, and the time is now to commit to investing in the classroom and to put students above profits. CAVA teachers were joined in an electrifying rally by more than 70 supporters including allies representing the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and others concerned about K12’s profit-driven model and its negative effect on the students who attend its managed schools.
US History teacher Jason Spadaro and math teacher Kelly Walters both spoke to protesters about the need to hold CAVA and K12 accountable to teachers, students, and taxpayers. They were joined by NEA’s national head of organizing, Jim Testerman, who read aloud a powerful statement of support for CAVA teachers from NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Speakers explained how K12’s curriculum is outdated and error-riddled, and also spoke about how California tax dollars are being converted into profit for K12 rather than being used to fix our school.
Prior to the shareholder action, special education teacher Mark Holtebeck attended a meeting with NEA staff to share the story of organizing our union. Mark spoke about the critical work charter educators are engaged in to improve opportunities for our students. In a preview of the shareholder rally, the meeting erupted as Mark led a packed room in the chant: “The teachers united will never be defeated!”
Special education teacher Kirt Knapp, who owns shares of K12 stock, was able to get inside the meeting to deliver our report card directly to K12 officers. While inside, we learned that shareholders also dissatisfied with K12’s performance rebelled by voting down a proposal to increase executive pay. The shareholder meeting ended abruptly and is scheduled to reconvene on Christmas Eve. Coverage of the shareholder meeting can be found here.
More and more schools are improving standards in order to recruit the best and brightest. We have great teachers here at CAVA, who are committed to our students. But the turnover is to high and that means many of our students cycle through multiple teachers in a single year.
Recently, in a first for a school district in California, the Grossmont Union High School District board in San Diego County approved six weeks of paid maternity leave for district teachers. The move benefits families and students as it will do much to attract and retain qualified educators.
As the statewide demand for teachers intensifies, strategies that seek to attract and retain young professionals are beginning to take shape at negotiating tables in California. Isn’t it time that CAVA make a better effort to create a more stable faculty and make teaching online a more sustainable profession? We think so! To read more about Grossmont Teachers and other recent victories, check out the November edition of CTA’s the educator!
Our recent victory at the Public Employment Relations Board has caught the attention of several media outlets. One recent article in The American Prospect called the PERB decision, “A major win in the movement to organize charter schools.” The article goes on to discuss how online charter schools, nationwide, are under fire for poor performance as evidenced by three recent research reports. CAVA Organizing Committee members, Stacie Bailey and Jen Shilen, were interviewed for this story and stressed the need for teachers to have more of a voice in school operations in order to begin fixing the problems plaguing our school and hampering our students’ education. The full article can be found by here.
On October 30th, PERB issued their long awaited decision, officially certifying our union here at CAVA. The decision affirmed that CAVA teachers are part of one statewide bargaining unit. Remember, CAVA/K12 Inc. had argued that we should instead be broken into 11 different groups associated with each of the CAVA@ charters? You can read the decision by the PERB administrative law judge here!
This is historic news! We now look forward to sitting down with CAVA administration to bargain a union contract. In their email alerting our co-workers to this news, administration said they were considering appealing the PERB decision. We think that would be a bad idea. We need to start working together to make changes now. No further delays are acceptable. Rather than expensive appeals we believe our students would be best served by administration working with CAVA teachers to make needed improvements at our school. There is no time to lose!
Next Steps: In the weeks to come we will have a number of opportunities for our CAVA co-workers to weigh in as we prepare for contract negotiations. Whether you supported the union initially or not, your input counts so don’t be shy. We will have surveys, town halls, meetings and other opportunities. Please contact us at email@example.com if you have questions or to find out how you can participate.
At CAVA, teachers have been saying for years that more resources must be focused in our classrooms. A number of recent academic studies about online charters echo concerns we have raised about the under funding of instruction at our school (we will provide a more detailed summary of these studies in our next newsletter). We believe our schools could be better if educators input were taken more seriously, instruction was prioritized over administrative tasks, and teacher turnover was actually considered a problem that should be fixed. Unfortunately, K12 Inc.’s priorities have too often focused on shareholder return rather than classroom success. We know that strategy has hurt our classrooms. It appears it has also hurt their bottom line.
K12’s first quarter conference call with investors took place on October 27th with the company reporting losses totaling $12.8 million and a 6.5 percent drop in revenues. Additionally, K12’s stock price continues to plummet, falling 19 percent over the past 12 months. In fact, it is currently at its lowest level in the past five years. This likely isn’t the news investors were hoping to hear as the tech-ed giant kicks off its 2016 fiscal year. Still, analysts are recommending investors hold out and not sell off their shares quite yet, as the company anticipates a slight uptick in its second quarter, projecting profits on operations in the range of $10-$15 million. While the company is far from going under, falling stock prices and declining revenues are contributing to some vulnerability, particularly in an environment in which the public and regulators are becoming increasingly critical of K12’s for-profit model and increasingly aware of the need to ensure for-profit education companies like K12 Inc. are held accountable to the communities and the students they serve.
Faced with these challenges, CAVA and K 12 Inc. will have a choice: improve the quality of education at our schools by making sure a larger portion of our resources are focused in our classrooms or try to send more of our valuable resources out of state to K12 Inc. HQ in Virginia. Obviously, we believe improving our schools by spending more resources in our classrooms is the answer. We’ve been saying that for years and will continue to press for these positive changes. We think it is time CAVA and K 12 Inc. listen to front line teachers who are doing the work, and sit down and work with us to make the necessary changes here at CAVA. Now that our union is certified, we have an opportunity to do that!