Breaking News from Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania!

This week we heard surprising news from the Keystone State. Apparently, the charter school governance board that oversees Agora Cyber Charter School (K12 Inc.’s affiliate in Pennsylvania) voted to sever ties with K12 Inc.

 

On August 5th, the Agora board of directors reportedly voted to terminate its contract with K12 for management services. On Monday, August 28th the Agora board voted to seek a new curriculum provider. Both decisions take effect July 1, 2015, when the current K12 contract expires.

 

For many years, educators at Agora voiced concerns about the amount of public money taken out of their classrooms and sent out of the state to K12’s corporate headquarters in Virginia. They were concerned about the adverse impact on class size, teacher salaries and quality of education.

 

However, this week’s vote by the Agora board was a surprise to many in Pennsylvania. Apparently it wasn’t just educators who were concerned about the impact K12 was having on their schools.

 

Here in California, we are closely watching what happens in Pennsylvania. We are interested in seeing what impact this has on Agora Cyber Charter School, their educators and their students.

 

We are also concerned about the ongoing crises facing K12 affiliated schools nationally. Keep in mind, the Agora decision follows problems facing many other K12 Inc. state affiliates, including Colorado, New Mexico and Tennessee.

 

This is yet another reason why it is important that we take responsibility for making CAVA better. If teachers don’t step up, who else will be able to advocate for our profession and our students?

Happy Labor Day, CAVA Workers!

September 1, 2014 marks the 120th anniversary of the establishment of Labor Day as a federal holiday in the United States. Let’s take a moment to appreciate those labor union activists who have come before us and recognize what they achieved to improve the lives of workers and the culture of our nation.

This is especially important for us as educators. We often take for granted the positive impact union educators have long had on our profession and on our students. Though many of our CAVA colleagues were previously employed by public school districts where the educators are union, it was easy to take the value of the union for granted.   So much of the positive influence of the union is based on a foundation which was established by teachers decades earlier. Pensions, clearly outlined job descriptions and expectations, step-and-column salary schedules, a system where there is a just and productive process to handle job performance issues, the ability for teachers to raise concerns and advocate for students without the fear of losing their jobs– these are all workplace conditions which are present because of the past and ongoing efforts of teacher unions. We believe the absence of such protections and conditions for workers at CAVA contributes to a school-wide culture of insecurity, mistrust and discontent. It is important that teachers are secure to advocate for their students and their profession.   Shifting this culture is a huge motivation behind our current unionizing effort.

More than just public education, unions have played a pivotal role in the shaping of our nation. Open up almost any United States history book and you will learn of Samuel Gompers, the American Federation of Labor, Caesar Chavez, and many others. Page after page, we learn of policies meant to empower and protect regular people, including programs like Social Security, safety protections for workers, the 40-hour work week, retirement plans and healthcare benefits. It was largely due to the efforts of regular people organizing that child labor laws moved low income children out of factories and into classrooms. Unions have a long and inspiring history in this country. In truth, what could be more American than hard-working individuals coming together to fight to protect our rights?

While many aspects of work have changed as the result of workers organizing, this quote from a shoemaker in 1827 still seems relevant today: “We labor in producing all the comforts of life for the enjoyment of others, while we ourselves obtain but a scanty portion, and even that in the present state of society depends on the will of employers.”[1] Our predecessors have provided for the future of workers and our country in more ways than we can appreciate in one day; however our present struggle is far from over.

 

[1] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492 – Present, page 216

Gaining Perspective on Recent Salary Changes

As educators, we believe all CAVA teachers should earn a salary that is commensurate with educators at traditional schools in California. We are professionals, and take our teaching responsibilities seriously. CAVA receives the same amount of ADA per student as traditional schools, yet historically, we make much less. The low pay doesn’t just make it hard to support our families, it also contributes to the high rate of teacher turnover, which in turn harms our students.

Recently, our CAVA colleagues received two e-mail notifications about salary changes. These updates used the term “raise” to describe updated rates of pay. At first we were excited that these changes might help close that gap. Upon closer inspection, we found that the information in these e-mails was somewhat misleading. Some of our colleagues discovered they have not received much of a raise at all.

Here are some important facts to consider:

  • The 2013-2014 school year had 200 work days for teachers.
  • The 2014-2015 school year has 214 teacher work days.
  • An annual salary divided by the number of work days will show a daily rate of pay and will allow comparison of last year with this year.

MathHere are the figures using an example of a typical 2013-2014 base annual salary of $35,000. Daily rate of pay for 200 work days was $175. On June 10, 2014, our Head of Schools e-mailed notification of a Cost Of Living Adjustment of 2.5%. That adds $875 in this scenario. This June 10 e-mail also informed teachers of a “merit” increase ranging from 2 to 8%; however, it did not state the merit percentage the teacher actually earned. Teachers must calculate that for themselves, and are left wondering how administration arrived at that particular rate of increase, as no specific metrics on merit pay have been shared. A hypothetical 4% merit increase would add $1,400 to our example salary. Added together, the new salary for 2014-2015 school year would be $37,275. This figure divided by the 214 work days shows a daily rate of pay this year of $174.18. This is not a raise. It is a pay cut.

On August 7, 2014, someCAVA teachers were notified via e-mail of an additional 5% salary increase. A salary schedule for our school was published for the first time on this date. The new salary schedule shows that a teacher will earn base salary with no annual increase for the first 5 years of employment with CAVA. It has been discovered that the updated base rate of pay for new teachers hired to join our staff this year is a higher rate of pay than some of our continuing teachers. This might explain why some teachers received the 5% raise notice on August 7.

Take a closer look at what all these pay rate changes mean for you personally. Compare last year with this year. Look at our longer school year, additional work days, and daily rate of pay. Our administrative team would like you to believe you have received a substantial raise this year. Close examination may reveal that this is not quite true.

Click HERE to see our current year salary schedule

“I’m In” Pin: Our Right to Show our Union Pride!

Many of our colleagues have asked whether we have the right to wear union buttons at the upcoming in-person Professional Development (PD)s.   The answer is yes!  Even though CAVA has not recognized our union, we still have a legally protected right to “concerted activity,” including wearing union buttons.
This is a long-standing right that all educators have in California due to the Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA), and PERB has consistently ruled in favor of employees who wear union buttons.

  • A 1993 PERB decision (Parks, 1026-S) says that “the wearing of union buttons is a protected right, absent special circumstances.”
  • In a 2004 decision (East Whittier School District, 1727) PERB again asserted that teachers can wear union buttons even during instructional time, as long as there were no “special circumstances” such as political elections (obviously not the case here!)

Wearing a pin such as our “I’m in” pin, therefore, is protected activity and CAVA administration can not prohibit you from wearing them, even when students are present, and is not allowed to retaliate against you for wearing the pin.

In the event that anyone from administration asks you to remove your button, respectfully let them know it is your right to wear this button according to the Educational Employment Relations Act. If they persist in their demand, ask if they intend to discipline you if you do not remove button.  If they say yes, inform them that they are violating your rights and report the episode to an organizing committee member.

Please let us know if you have any more questions!

“Welcome Back” Email Raises Questions about CAVA/K12 Administration’s Motives

We recently received a “Welcome Back” email from our head of schools.  Have you had a chance to read it?  If not, you should, as it clearly indicates administration’s game plan for how they hope to delay our efforts to improve our schools during the 2014/2015 school year.

 

We are encouraged by some parts of the letter and disappointed by others.  We are encouraged that our organizing is having an impact.  CAVA administration clearly recognizes changes need to happen to make our schools better.  That is why they are now discussing important issues like fixing bad policies, building trust, improving teacher salaries and how much money leaves our classrooms and goes to K-12 corporate headquarters.

 

At the same time, we are disappointed that CAVA administration is not respecting our democratic decision to unionize.  Instead, they have decided to use legal maneuvers to try to delay our efforts to improve our schools.  We believe CAVA’s game plan, as described in the “Welcome Back” email, is to suggest they are making the kind of improvements we have been calling for, while trying to delay our unionization process through legal maneuvers.  They know once we are union any improvements cannot be undone without the agreement of front line teachers.

 

Recent History

To understand what CAVA administration is doing, it is important to review a bit of recent history.  As we previously reported, on July 15th the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) verified that teachers at CAVA demonstrated majority support for our union.  This represented a big step towards making the improvements our students deserve and validation of our co-workers’ hard work to build a stronger teacher community that is dedicated to changing our schools.

 

As a result of our organizing and PERB’s verification of majority support for unionization, CAVA administration had two options.  Option 1: Recognize our union and sit down with teachers to bargain a union contract that includes improvements to working conditions and the learning environment at CAVA.  Option 2: Attempt to delay the process by raising legal objections with PERB.

 

On July 22, our union organizing committee sent a letter to CAVA administration requesting that they respect our democratic decision to unionize.  Though we hoped they would do the right thing and respect our decision, we suspected they might try to delay the process. CAVA/K-12 administration has a lot to lose when teachers have a real voice in how the school operates.  Once we are union they will no longer be able to make unilateral decisions without negotiating with us.

 

On July 29, CAVA administration confirmed our suspicions and chose Option 2.  They sent a letter to PERB indicating they are seeking to delay the process.  Though not a surprise, we are disappointed in their decision.  Their goal is to delay the start of bargaining so they can postpone making the changes we all know are needed.

 

 

Delay Tactics: Legal Maneuvers 101

In the “Welcome Back” email we received yesterday, the head of schools references the two legal maneuvers they will use to try to create a delay.  The first is that CAVA/K12 administration is suggesting that CAVA is comprised of 11 different, totally independent schools that have no common relationship, as opposed to the statewide managed organization we know they are.  Those of us who have been here a while know that the 11 charters that make up CAVA operate as a single organization.  We all teach the same students, have the same managers, and share the same curriculum. We even receive the same emails from the same head of schools!

 

The second maneuver is a strange assertion by CAVA/K12 administration that there is another union involved.  This is not true and frankly doesn’t even make sense.  The source of their claim is that we have referred to ourselves as unionizing with the California Teachers Association (CTA), and as unionizing with California Virtual Educators United/CTA/NEA.   These both refer to the same organization (CTA) a fact of which they are well aware.

 

CAVA/K12 administration has asked PERB for a hearing to discuss both of these issues. Their game plan is delay.  If there is a hearing, we are confident we will prevail.  However, we believe that CAVA/K12 should stop wasting precious school funds on baseless legal maneuvers.  Instead they should respect our democratic decision to unionize and start bargaining a union contract with us.

 

What to Expect Next

As we start the 2014/2015 school year, we will continue to prepare for contract bargaining, continue to build our union, and continue to push for improvements at CAVA.  We look forward to working with all of the new teachers this year and supporting them as they begin their CAVA careers.  Over the next few months we will also continue our work with school boards and legislators throughout California, as we push through various avenues to make sure public resources are used in our classrooms to help us provide the best possible education for our students.

 

If you have any more questions about where we are in the process, or want to know the best ways you can help, please contact us at CAVA.organizing.committee@nullgmail.com.