July 19, 2023

Thomas Ultican: GOP Activist Attacks Teachers’ Contract

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Thomas Ultican looks at an attack on a teachers contract in San Diego. Reposted with permission. 

On June 12 2023, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) ratified a new 3-year contract with the teachers and paraeducators unions (San Diego Educators Association (SDEA) – California School Employees Association Paraeducators Chapter 759). Before the month ended, Todd Maddison of the conservative Parents Association placed a scathing indictment of the new contract in the Voice of San Diego. This relentless GOP led disparagement of teachers and public schools has become the standard operating procedure throughout America.

It is not obvious what Maddison wants. The headline for his opinion piece says “San Diego Unified Is Putting Adults First, Not Students.” It is incongruent with the new contract. He apparently thinks teachers are overpaid and a 15% pay raise is a theft of public money.

Contract Details

SDEA had been negotiating this 3-year deal with the district for more than a year. The last contract expired June 30, 2022. They demanded an 18% pay raise and settled for 15%.

Several other issues were also negotiated.

SDEA Chart Negotiated Pay Raise

The contract was ratified on June 12th by a 98% positive vote from SDEA members. Board Trustee Richard Barrera said, “With the agreement, we’re on our way to being able to tell young people you can pursue a career as an educator and still be able to raise a family in a place like San Diego at the same time. He said that first-year teachers can make $64,000 a year, those in the middle of their careers $105,000 and veterans, up to $124,000.

Other issues agreed to included:

  1. Community schools require a part-time community school coach at each campus
  2. Elementary schools, with more than 250 students, get a counselor three days a week, those with more than 375 students get one four days a week and schools with more than 500 students get a full-time counselor
  3. Full-time nurses remain in every comprehensive high school
  4. Middle and high school physical education classes capped at 50 students, down from 60
  5. Middle and high schools add a part-time restorative-justice position
  6. Transitional kindergarten classes are capped at 24 students and first grade through third-grade capped at 29 – all were previously capped at 35
  7. Every transitional kindergarten classroom will have an early-childhood teacher and a teacher with multiple-subject credentials
  8. Paid maternity leave doubled to six weeks

This negotiation ended with a substantial pay raise for teachers. Students got smaller classes throughout the K-12 system and improved staffing ratios in kindergarten. Both administration and teacher negotiators actually paid considerable attention to improving the plight of students.

Yet, Maddison claimed, “San Diego Unified Is Putting Adults First, Not Students,”

More Maddison Assertions…

He opened by saying:

“Anyone who follows K-12 education will tell you we’re facing a crisis. The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) numbers expose declines in academic performance to unprecedented levels …”

I follow K-12 education closely and do not see a crisis because the 2022 test scores wiggled down a few points. We just came through a pandemic and test preparation was not a priority. Give the children a chance to recover from the recent trauma and they will be fine unless faux educators convince us to do crazy things like high intensity tutoring, double math and mandatory summer school.

Maddison, the data analyst for Transparent California said:

“From SDUSD’s own payroll records, obtained using a legal public records request and posted for anyone to see on the Transparent California website, data show in 2022 the median total pay of a full time certificated employee was $102,024. For comparison, the latest U.S. Census Bureau data shows private workers with equivalent education in San Diego County made $87,784.”

His teacher salary data seems reasonable but professionals with “equivalent education” and time on the job are generally paid more than teachers.

San Diego is very expensive. Multiple rent tracking web sites report that the average two-bedroom apartment rents for over $3,200 a month. To attract and retain quality educators, a living wage is required to support more than bare survival.

Maddison writes:

“Last year, teachers had 27.8 percent of their pay contributed to their retirement. That’s a whopping 17.6 percent more than private workers, where total retirement contributions typically average 10.2 percent.”

This is disingenuous.

California teachers are not part of the Social Security system. They and their employers pay into the California teachers’ retirement system and have to contribute more to match the amount non-teachers accumulate.

He concludes his editorial claiming that SDUSD is financially unsound and quotes from the County Board of Education July 2022 response to the district’s budget proposal: “[T]he district will need to make budget reductions of approximately $129 million by fiscal year 2024-25 and an additional $53 million in 2025-26 in order to remain fiscally solvent and meet the required minimum reserve.”

On the same issue, he ignores the County’s September 2022 comment:

“The Adopted Budget shows the district will be unable to meet its multi-year financial commitments in subsequent fiscal years without additional budget solutions; however, the district’s adopted budget was developed prior to adoption of the 2022-23 state budget. Actual state budget data should be incorporated into the district operating budget and multi-year projection during the First Interim Report process. Any necessary budget reductions should be detailed and approved by the board along with submission of the First Interim Report.”

The County was not concerned with the district’s solvency. They merely stated that under the current revenue stream, the budget needed to be adjusted for future requirements. As of September 2022, without knowing how much money was coming from the state, once enrollment was finalized and state contribution known, the district was directed to make any necessary budget adjustments and report.

The Parent Association

Todd Maddison’s biography says, “Todd is also a founding member of the Parent Association and is the San Diego County Chair of the California School Choice Foundation.”

Parent Association apparently grew out of the loud, right-leaning, pandemic protest movement. They were responding to President Trump and Education Secretary DeVos who were calling for schools to be opened in person. Maddison immediately joined in the call. A July 12th Union Tribune article on the protest quoted him extensively.

It is true that children are less susceptible to COVID-19 infections but not immune. People working in schools, especially teachers, would be at risk, as would the children’s adult family members. On July 12 2020, with the first vaccines more than six months away, San Diego County reported 508 new infections with 2 more deaths. By November, the number of new cases was more than 1,000 per day.

On April 21 2021, the IRS granted the Parent Association tax exempt status as a charity under the 501-c3 rule (EIN 87-1693090), meaning donations are tax deductible. In July, their sister organization, the Parent Advocacy Center, was granted 501-c4 status (EIN 87-1487817). This means they don’t pay taxes but because they are a political action group, donations to them are not tax deductible.

Both organizations are registered in San Francisco, care of the James Sutton law firm, the campaign lawyers. The executive director of the Parent Association is Ginny Merrifield, a very connected operator in San Diego Republican circles and trustee of the E3 Civic High. She was also co-founder and trustee of the private and pricey Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, California and boardmember of governors for the $750 million San Diego Foundation. Her husband, Marshal, ran for San Diego city council as a Republican but was not elected.

When billionaire, Arthur Rock, put up hundreds of thousands to remove the San Francisco school board, Sutton and hedge fund founder Patrick Wolff of Grandmaster Capital, took the lead. Wolff founded Grandmaster Capital with seed funding from his billionaire friend, Peter Thiel. According to the hedge fund journal, they were initially brought together by a common interest in chess.

As county chair of the California School Choice foundation, Maddison campaigns for Education Savings Accounts, another name for vouchers. He writes about not being able to make the changes that failing public schools need and realized “The best way to give parents real power over school districts is to have the ability to take their money somewhere else.”

Are you sure that is not taxpayer money?


Research paper after research paper have over the last more than a decade consistently found terrible results from voucher schools. Last year, Professor Joshua Cohen wrote in the Hechinger Report, “After two decades of studying voucher programs, I’m now firmly opposed to them.”

Todd Madison and the wealthy right want to privatize public education and undermine teacher professionalism.

That is a mistake.

Public schools have been under assault by a well-funded group of oligarchs for more than 40 years. We have the best school system in the world. They are not now nor ever have been “failing.”

It is the height of foolishness to diminish this national treasure, the bedrock of American democracy.

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