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In many ways, consultant Bob Moore’s report showing dysfunction at Poway Unified School District confirmed what the Poway School Employees Association has been trying to tell the district for quite some time: There is a serious lack of support staff to do the jobs required, and little to no professional development to keep our skills current.
Over the past several years, we have been negotiating with the district to restore support staff after the devastating cuts taken during the state budget crisis. In 2003, classified employees took a major hit in our numbers. Many positions – more than 500, including some in the “understaffed” IT department Moore highlighted – had work hours reduced or were completely eliminated.
Then from 2003 through 2009, even more support staff positions were cut. Throughout those years, however, services to students did not decline. Rather, support staff were asked to “do more with less” until the budget picture improved.
Now that the state budget future is looking brighter, the employees association has sought to restore positions, particularly in the IT department, school libraries and elementary school front offices.
We have also requested increasing the number of special instructional assistants to more desirable six-hour positions (as opposed to the current three-hour positions, which have contracts without benefits). This would alleviate the constant turnover and disruption to students’ daily routines.
There is so much more needed beyond these suggestions.
Most people do not understand the essential functions of the classified support staff and their contribution in educating students. We all know the value of teachers; we experience their work daily through our children. But the “behind the scenes” support that enables teachers to do their difficult job comes from the classified staff.
In our district, the technology that we expect and take for granted is completely generated by classified support staff. As Moore’s report pointed out, the staffing levels in the IT department are inadequate.
Our suggestions to the district aren’t new. We also proposed restoring cut positions last year in negotiations, which the district declined to do. This year, we have not heard back from them, with the exception of the comment “the trimmed tree does not always grow back the same way,” and that the district may not need those positions now.
We’d like to know when exactly the district is going to talk about how the tree should grow back at all.
The employees association is more than ready to have this conversation and work with the district to make data-driven decisions on staffing increases, like our teachers union does using “interest-based problem solving.” But getting the district to gather that hasn’t happened yet.
The employees association had also pushed for several years to restore funding for professional development of classified staff, which was decimated in the budget cuts.
In 2013-14, after the teachers union secured a salary increases for professional learning credits earned, the district dedicated funds to the employees association and the Service Employees International Union (on a percentage basis) to establish professional development for their respective members.
Last year, the Poway School Employees Association was successful in negotiating a professional learning program, and we’re now in the process of launching those initiatives. Although the district funds the professional learning program, they have given us the responsibility of assessing employees’ needs, developing programs and initiating training.
After reading Moore’s report, I think we have a much better idea of what the IT employees need in terms of communication, training and certificates.
While the report is pretty critical of Poway Unified’s IT department, we see its findings and recommendations as an opportunity to grow and improve. And we know that if adequate resources are dedicated by the district, the employees will overcome the challenges identified in the report.
Lynnette Turner is president of the Poway School Employees Association’s board of directors. Turner’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.