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October 4, 2002

New law eyes salary parity at state deaf, blind schools

From: Oakland Tribune, CA
Oct. 4, 2002

40% lower pay sees schools lose teachers to other areas, Dutra says
By Sean R. Cabibi

FREMONT -- Teachers at the California School for the Deaf and the California School for the Blind have a new tool to help in their quest for pay raises.

Gov. Gray Davis has signed into law a bill requiring the state to consider making salaries for teachers at state special schools equal to those of nearby public school districts during union contract negotiations.

"(The state) will have to address the discrepancy and must have justification if the pay scale is not competitive," said Assemblyman John Dutra, D-Fremont, author of the bill that was signed Sunday by Davis. "My personal expectation is to get pay parity within three to four years."

The salary scale at the two state schools is as much as 40 percent lower than the scale for similarly qualified teachers in surrounding public school districts, Dutra said.

The discrepancy is due to the fact that bargaining for state schools is done on a statewide basis, so the pay scale is almost identical across the board and often doesn't consider cost of living for certain areas, Dutra said.

The schools are losing teachers to areas with lower costs of living, he said.

The two-year contract for both schools expires June 30. Negotiating is expected to start in January, officials said.

Salary scales at both schools range from around $34,000 to $58,000, with an additional $8,400 recruitment and retention bonus added on each year. The bonus is negotiated each time contracts are renewed and is not guaranteed, officials said.

The annual base salary for teachers in the Fremont school district is $45,000, topping out at $83,000 for veteran teachers, officials said. The local school for the deaf has lost a number of teachers to the school in Riverside -- the only other school of its type in the state -- said Henry Klopping, the local school's superintendent.

"They can buy a house there for $150,000," he said. "Here, that wouldn't buy you a garage."

Klopping said the problem extends beyond teachers, to clerical staff and custodial positions.

"Teachers are just one position," he said. "We're dealing with this problem at all levels."

The California School for the Blind's main concern is recruitment, rather than teachers moving to another school, because the school is the only one in the state for the blind, said Stuart Wittenstein, the school's superintendent.

"I have numerous teachers with 20-plus years experience, and when they retire it will be hard to recruit teachers to replace them without competitive salaries," he said.

Wittenstein is hopeful the law will have a significant impact, but he reiterated the state is required by the new law only to consider making salaries equal. Nothing is guaranteed, he emphasized.

A similar bill Dutra authored in 2001 would have required state teachers' salaries to mirror those of neighboring public school districts. Davis vetoed the bill, saying the problem was a bargaining issue, not a legislative issue.

"It's unfortunate the state would even consider paying these teachers less," Dutra said, "especially when you consider the amount of training they have and the amazing things they do."

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