By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Jan. 7, 2020: This story has been updated to reflect that the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association submitted its grievance to arbitration. The LBUSD board did not vote to enter arbitration, but Association president Sara Hopper said the board could have avoided arbitration by directing senior staff to reimburse impacted teachers.
When four Laguna Beach math teachers told their supervisors they planned to take maternity leave, they knew they would have to chip in for their substitutes.
But they didn’t expect their monthly salaries would be slashed by $330 per day of maternity leave, more than double the district’s usual rate. Thurston math teacher Heather Miner said it cost her over $7,000 to stay home with her daughter, Hazel.
“I just worry about these types of policies because it’s the last thing mothers should be worried about,” Miner said.
After meeting four times with school district administrators over six months to resolve the dispute, the Laguna Beach Unified Faculty Association submitted the grievance to arbitration. Association president Sara Hopper said the Board of Education could have avoided arbitration by deciding the substitute pay spike was bad policy and directing senior staff to reimburse impacted teachers.
California law allows school districts to deduct the cost of supplying substitutes from teachers’ monthly salaries. LBUSD increased the pay rate for long-term subs from $150 to $330 per day because they were having a difficult time finding substitutes for teachers absent while on maternity leave.
The issue came to a head at the Dec. 17 school board meeting, where Hopper read a statement to the board.
“Imagine trying to financially plan the cost to stay home with your newborn child and these teachers—new mothers—are being penalized for making this decision,” Hopper said. “The unintended consequences of this resulted in a policy of discrimination against a select few teachers on maternity leave and promotes a gender pay gap in a predominantly female profession.”
The maneuver is anticipated to cost the taxpayers and teachers’ union thousands of dollars in staff time and legal fees.
Hopper said she met with Superintendent Jason Viloria on Friday, and they’re considering all possible solutions for making impacted teachers whole.
Board of Education President Peggy Wolff directed a request for comment to school district staff.
“Currently, the district is working with some employees who are challenging our substitute pay through the grievance process in our union contract, and in some cases, are suggesting that the policy is ‘new’ and ‘something implemented arbitrarily’ by the superintendent, which is not accurate,” district spokesperson Leisa Winston wrote in an email.
Winston said the district cannot ignore parts of the teachers’ contract outlining substitute pay deductions but is open to discussing this item when both parties return to the negotiating table in 2020.
Miner said she and her colleagues are more interested in making sure expecting mothers don’t have to go through the same ordeal, than recovering their deducted pay.
“We knew going into having our babies that we were going to be between a rock and a hard place, because math teachers are hard to come by,” Miner said.
The Laguna Beach teachers’ cases illuminate California’s challenges for recruiting and retaining qualified teachers.
A 2016 survey of 211 school districts by the Learning Policy Institute reported that nearly three-quarters couldn’t recruit enough qualified teachers to fill classrooms. Instead, schools hired thousands of under-qualified teachers.
LBUSD didn’t find a math-specialized teacher to fill in while Miner was on maternity leave. District officials reassigned an existing employee and had him get an emergency substitute credential, she said.
Katie Quirarte, an eighth-grade math teacher at Thurston Middle School, said the surprise pay spike for her substitute cost her about $3,200 more than expected. Her husband had to return to his work earlier than expected after their son was born.
“You’re already going crazy, you’re not sleeping,” Quirarte said. “It’s nerve-wracking for someone who has budgeted.”
The notion that LBUSD would pay substitute teachers more for teaching math but pay full-time math teachers the same as coworkers who teach other subjects is unfortunate, she said.
“It makes you feel that you have to come back sooner than you want to,” she said. “We don’t get paid more, so why are our subs getting paid more?”