Palisades High School Seniors Held Hostage in Labor Negotiations

Palisades Charter High School is a public school.

In addition to dealing with Zoom classes, lack of extracurriculars/sports and a chance to hang out with their friends, seniors at Palisades Charter High School in Pacific Palisades were just thrown another roadblock by the teacher’s union, UTLA (United Teacher Los Angeles). Teachers are refusing to write college recommendation letters, until a new contract is signed. They sent out the letter below to seniors.

Dear Valued Student,

 Thank you for your request for a letter of recommendation.  I know you have chosen me because you believe I can represent you well as you move forward into the next chapter of your academic career. Regretfully, I cannot commit to doing so at this time.

 Since July 1 of 2019, we, the teachers, have been working without a contract. This is not normal. As it stands right now, we still do not have a contract despite the fact that negotiations began in the Fall of 2018. We want to go above and beyond for you and all of our students by spending many unpaid hours writing terrific letters of recommendation, but until our Administrative Team solidifies our contract and acknowledges our requests for a safe working environment, we cannot move forward.

 Although we always try to protect students and parents from witnessing what goes on behind the scenes, it is important you understand where we are coming from. PCHS ended last year with over a $2 million surplus, and they also received a PPP loan of $4.6 million. Despite all of this, they have refused to meet our requests and we are still working without a contract.

 Teacher salaries as a whole were cut by over $500,000 last year while administrative costs have gone up over $400,000, a 23% increase in the past five years. To add insult to injury, many of us have spent countless unpaid and voluntary hours this summer preparing engaging digital curriculum for you and designing fair and appropriate grading practices to meet the needs of these challenging times. In a Board Meeting on August 13, 2020, these efforts were completely undermined, disregarded, and our years of educational experience and expertise were dismissed.

 This is truly demoralizing to us as teachers and it pains us to not go above and beyond for you and all of our students. But at this time, we have to stand up for what we know is right. As soon as a fair contract settlement is reached, we would be happy to write you a glowing letter of recommendation.

 If you would like to send an email to the Board of Trustees and the Executive Director asking them to work to a fair agreement with teachers, you can email them at trustees@palihigh.org and pmagee@palihigh.org.

 With heavy hearts,

Your PCHS Teachers

PaliHi, a fiscally independent charter of Los Angeles Unified School District, is a public school and receives funding from the state.  A $4.6 million loan was applied for through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Part of the reason the school took out a loan was because of the uncertainty of state funding. Governor Gavin Newson said it was likely that funding would be deferred at times through the 2020-2021 school year. The state operates on a cash budget and funding would occur when it would have a more balanced budget.

More recently the school was told it will not get state money until December, which means PaliHi is now using the PPP for operating expenses.

The Chief Operating Officer Greg Wood, who left suddenly at the beginning of August, had warned in a June meeting that “We can make the payroll, but there is no indication that the loan will be forgiven.” He also pointed out that revenue was down for the school the last year. Wood has since taken a job at another fiscally independent charter, closer to his home.

Stephen Klima

At least 78 employees at PaliHi made more than $95,000 in 2018-19, according to story in Forbes “Why California is in Trouble 340,000 public employees with $100,000 paychecks cost taxpayers $45 billion.”

David Suarez

Principal Pam Magee makes ($201,371). The second highest paid employee is anatomy teacher Karen Perkins ($172,305), the third highest paid was social science teacher and UTLA rep David Suarez ($150,179) and English teacher Stephen Klima, the other UTLA rep, was 29th on the list  ($112, 532).

The principal works a full year, is an “at-will” employee and can be fired at any time.

By contrast, it is nearly impossible to fire a teacher, who annually works 180 days and receives generous benefits.

For example, one teacher at the school openly hated males, had a germ phobia and was racist. Parents were told in 2006 that in order for the school to fire a teacher, they needed to write letters to the administration with specific examples, so the school could start a file. Year after year parents wrote letters or complained to the school. By 2018, the teacher who was still on campus, was making almost $97,000. The teacher filed a Civil Right lawsuit against PaliHi that year, saying it was a hostile work environment and that she received disparate treatment. The teacher left the school at the beginning of 2020, but the case is still in the Los Angeles County Superior Courts.

When the administrators’ contract came before the PaliHi Board of Trustees in June this year, they did not receive a raise. Additionally, the contract stipulated that through 2023, the compensation of the principal and other administrators could be subject to reduction based on school financials. (The contract can be found online at the June 23 Board of Trustees meeting at palihigh.org under governance.)

The last time administration had a raise was negotiated more than four years ago, which was the same time teachers had a raise. Both groups received a 2% increase every year for three years.

The PaliHi Board of Trustees/Magee were asked about the letter, and sent Circling the News an email on August 23: “Our Board of Trustees and Administration want you to know the well-being and success of our students, teachers and staff are our top priority.”

UTLA reps David Suarez and Stephen Klima were contacted but did not respond.

One parent told Circling the News “this is causing kids so much anxiety.” Another parent, who has kids in middle school said, “I’m seriously looking at private schools—who would extort kids at such a crucial time?!”

Many may remember the famous January 1973 National Lampoon Cover with a gun pointed at a dog with the caption “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll kill This Dog.” The only thing missing from this UTLA blackmailed threat, “Get Us a Contract, Write the Letter,” is the gun.

 

 

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