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October 1, 2002

Teachers of deaf, blind welcome pay-equity bill

From: San Jose Mercury News, CA
Oct. 1, 2002

By Matthai Chakko Kuruvila
Mercury News

Teachers at the state's schools for deaf or blind students might be on their way to receiving pay comparable to their counterparts at nearby public schools.

Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill Sunday written by Assemblyman John Dutra, D-Fremont, that requires the state to consider the issue of pay equity during collective bargaining negotiations.

The bill is a watered-down version of a previous bill, also written by Dutra but vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis, that would have required pay equity for the state-employed teachers at schools for deaf or blind students.

Although advocates for the deaf are encouraged by AB 2444, they say it remains to be seen how effective it will be since there are no penalties included in the new law.

``We're absolutely thrilled,'' said Barb Matusky, a mother of two students at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont. ``The union has the option to just negotiate about that. That's our struggle now: getting our voice onto the bargaining table.''

The bill's teeth come in the word ``consider,'' Dutra said. In the language of Sacramento, the word means that teachers at the state's schools for the deaf and blind should see comparable pay to nearby public school teachers within three to four years, Dutra said.

At stake, Dutra said, is the relationship between the governor's office and the Legislature.

``I think respect is violated if bills of this sort are disregarded,'' Dutra said. He said Davis vetoed his first bill because he believed salaries should be negotiated during collective bargaining.

Teachers at state schools for deaf or blind people make 20 to 30 percent less than teachers at nearby public schools, according to an analysis conducted by Dutra's office. Low pay is particularly a problem in Fremont, home of one of California's two schools for the deaf, because of the Bay Area's high cost of living.

The result has been that Fremont's school for the deaf routinely sees a large number of vacancies, said Hank Klopping, superintendent of the Fremont deaf school. Last year, there were 16 vacancies out of 98 total positions, not counting several retirements over the summer.

Klopping estimated that there are approximately 35 teachers fluent in American Sign Language that are produced statewide each year. Some teachers simply never consider coming to Fremont, Klopping said.

``They say, `Wow, I could earn $10,000 less, live in New Mexico and buy a home,'' Klopping said. Teachers find it hard to find an affordable apartment in Fremont, he said.

The pay disparity severely hinders the effectiveness of the school, said Matusky. Her son's favorite math teacher, who also taught robotics, left last year to go to New York, where he could afford to buy a house.

``It's hard to take that,'' she said.

© Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder.