By Curtis Hendricks

Tuesday, May 19, teachers gathered in front of the Desert Sands Unified School District, located in La Quinta, CA, near the intersection of 48th Ave. and Dune Palms Road, to rally their concerns for the attempted negotiations with the school district. They gathered in a strong crowd, all wearing blue shirts that read DSTA (Desert Sands Teachers Association) while chanting for a much needed reform.  They’re calling out the district for not taking care of their teachers as other districts have.

Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD) and the DSTA have been at an impasse, on reaching any type of acceptable deal this school year. In fact, all of the teachers working for the DSUSD have been working without contracts since the beginning of the school year.  Teachers are feeling underappreciated and, in a much larger sense, devalued by DSUSD, while the district maintains a 30 out of 33 districts standing at the top of the salary schedule. John Lienhard, Indio High School Teacher, asks, “Why does the [DSUSD] Board of Education feel that their teachers do not need to be compensated, as well as the teachers in the other districts?”

The Coachella Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) and Palm Springs Unified School District (PSUSD) both reached deals with their teacher associations. The terms at which those deals were met include a five percent salary increase this year. PSUSD already settled for an additional five percent salary increase for next school year. Teachers in the Palo Verde Unified School District have negotiated for a fifteen percent salary increase over the course of two years. These three districts have also included in their terms to put additional resources towards health insurance benefits.

Health benefits are part of the much needed reform in teacher employment. CVUSD teachers just bargained for $20,694 towards health insurance each year.  PSUSD teachers receive $14,008, while DSUSD teachers receive only $11,500, yet DSUSD employees (non teachers) receive $14,136.

PSUSD and CVUSD have also shown more support for their special education teachers by giving those teachers a $1,000 stipend.  While the struggles of large class sizes, teachers need additional time to prepare for their classes, grade work, plan future lessons, and much more.  Both PSUSD and CVUSD give their elementary teachers 150 minutes per week of planning time. DSUSD gives their elementary teachers 90 minutes per week. Class sizes are also at risk of increasing in the K-3 classrooms, while Coachella reduced their K-3 class sizes 1 to 24.

Many teachers are at a concern for their district. I have talked to teachers from various schools that are considering leaving the district to teach somewhere else. The issues pose concern for the excellent teachers we have in this district, and are thinking of leaving due to the districts unwavering stance against the DSTA. The DSTA is asking for no more than what other districts have already granted their teachers.

I understand that many may be concerned about these deals raising taxes to fund public education, or some type of additional educational fees, but that will not happen. DSUSD is already receiving $22.3 million more in revenue this year as compared to last year.  Funds are already available to DSUSD.

Mona Davidson, DSTA President, stated to me, “When the governor issued his May Revised budget numbers, he said that teachers have been underpaid, and this [the added money] will help to fix that. Why won’t the district listen? They [DSUSD] say they want to come back to the table, but they were the ones who walked away in the first place, and they want us to go back to the table to do the work we were willing to do in February when they declared impasse. They hint at wanting to offer a good deal, but won’t officially ask us to come back and won’t give us anything to work with. We’ve told them what we want and it’s their budget. They need to come to us with a new proposal, and we’ll be back at the table in the blink of an eye.” Another concern of Davidson’s that she expressed as a land owner within the school district. Davidson feels that the current teachers and possible incoming teachers will flock to other districts. If the district is losing the good teachers they already have, the district will worsen, and people will send their kids to better districts. If people are going to other districts, land value will lessen.

The teachers in DSUSD are clearly fed up, and overtones of a possible strike were in the air at the rally.  We need a conclusion to these negotiations now.  I urge everyone within the school district to contact DSUSD and support your teachers. They deserve more then what they are asking.

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