A False Choice — Layoffs or Pay Freeze?

June 26, 2020

This morning, the Unite Summit and SPS bargaining teams met for the second time to negotiate compensation for the 2020-21 school year. 

We proposed earlier this week that 1) SPS compensate all teachers according to the salaries described in their 2020-21 compensation letters and 2) in October Unite Summit would negotiate any potential cuts to compensation based on updated funding information.  We believe that this proposal is extremely reasonable because the State announced this week that there would be no funding cuts to schools, and we would commit to negotiate in a timely manner if cuts do take place. 

Diane Tavenner stated that they would not provide a counter proposal.  She stated that our proposal to delay cuts by a few months until we have a clearer picture of State and federal funding would create hardship for Summit staff and students. We believe immediate cuts to expected pay are an extreme hardship, as we heard so many teachers eloquently state at the SPS Board meeting earlier this week.

Let us be clear about Summit’s financial position. 

  • Last month, Summit received almost $7 million dollars from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (a low-interest loan that has the potential to become a grant). 
  • Summit hired an “Entrepreneur in Residence” in April, who makes $400,000 a year.
  • Summit’s CEO is the highest paid K-12 public school leader in the state. 
  • SPS has estimated reserves of just under $50 million dollars. As part of their budget, Summit is committing $14 million from its reserves to continue operating, with 4.1 million going to CA schools. Making good on the 2020-21 salary raises would cost less than three percent of the remaining SPS reserves.
  • There are no cuts to state funding as part of the budget deal. The budget deal also prohibits teacher layoffs during the 2020-21 school year. While it is currently unclear if charters are exempt from this prohibition, the fact that SPS and school districts are receiving the same amount of money, yet Summit is threatening to lay-off teachers while school districts are prohibited from doing so is extremely troubling.

Delaying a pay freeze for our members for four months would cost less than $350,000.  This will not ruin Summit financially. But for our members, a sudden pay freeze could have severe financial consequences. Pressing “pause” on pay freezes for teachers (and, even though they are not in our union, for hourly workers) is a financially viable plan. It’s also the equitable thing to do.  

We were asked by Diane to present an alternative to teacher pay freezes. So, in less than an hour, our bargaining team developed three proposals which would redistribute about $970,000 from employees at the highest end of the pay scale to avoid teacher pay freezes. 

Most of our teachers, especially our younger teachers, are well below the low-income limit of $82,000 put out by the City of San Francisco. Essentially, our bargaining team knows that people on the lower ends of our spectrum will need to make extreme changes to adjust to a change in the expected income. They may need to move in with parents, find roommates, line up second jobs, and so forth. These teachers will be disproportionately affected by changes to their expected income.  We believe that employees at the highest end of the pay scale are best able to withstand a pay cut.  

In higher education, administrators are freezing/cutting their pay in order to help keep pay steady for professors, graduate teaching assistants, and hourly workers (for example, see “Pay Cuts for University Presidents, Coaches,” from Inside Higher Ed or “UC chancellors will take a 10% pay cut amid coronavirus-related budget crisis” from the LA Times). Administrators for at  least two other charters in our area are taking pay cuts and freezes so that lower-paid employees do not have to. We believe that this exemplifies leadership.  

When presenting our proposals, we emphasized that there are other parts of the budget that could be cut instead of reducing the salaries of the highest-paid employees.  We would welcome collaboration with SPS in identifying other areas in our budget to cut, for example in non-student-facing initiatives such as the Prepared Parents program. We also emphasized that in all our proposals, we would seek to bargain compensation as early as September 16th to respond to any funding cuts from the State or Federal government.  This would provide us with time to meaningfully engage in ongoing conversations and input with teachers.

Unfortunately, although our proposals sought to take a wider view of the budget and to focus pay cuts on the highest paid employees as a starting idea, Diane Tavenner continued to insist that $970,000 must be cut from California teachers.  As a reminder, these cuts are based on Summit choosing to pass a budget with an assumed 10% decrease in State revenue, even though this is NOT currently part of the State’s budget proposal. 

Tavenner announced that since we would not agree to immediate pay freezes,  she would choose to cut 10-14 positions from the Expeditions team.  We do not view any of our teachers as expendable — we view our Expeditions team members as an integral part of our organization. Tavenner’s proposal to cut 10-14 positions from that team would result in the inability of our organization to offer a quality electives program, which is a key selling point for our schools and a core aspect of our model. 

We are not interested in agreeing to layoffs. We are disappointed that we are being presented with a false choice: a pay freeze or laying off our coworkers. This “choice” indicates a willingness to view our teachers as expendable, which is not an acceptable attitude. As we have tried to repeatedly stress to Summit’s bargaining team, there is a third way that would allow time for collaboration and creativity in solving our potential budget problems and allow us to make these decisions based on more concrete information by delaying negotiations about cuts until September.

We are disappointed that Tavenner refused to discuss alternatives, as we felt our proposals were a fair attempt, given new information in an hour, to find cost savings in other areas of the budget that would not disproportionately affect those at the bottom of the pay scale. 

We are seeking a follow-up meeting on July 6, as SPS is closed next week. To reiterate, we believe layoffs would be harmful and unnecessary.  We will not agree to them. In the meantime, we will keep you updated on our plans to fight back against these unnecessary cuts. 


The following Unite Summit Bargaining Team members attended today’s meeting: Liz DeOrnellas, Expeditions; Fuchsia Spring, K2; Amber Steele, Denali Middle; Dan McClure, Prep; Evan Anderson, Everest; and Douglas Wills, Tahoma. Daryl Hemenway and Ona Keller from CTA also joined the discussion, as did Unite Summit Treasurer Mrris Shieh. 

Our priority is to include your voice in our next steps. Your site representative will contact you within the next few days as we develop a plan to support each other and organize against proposed cuts. As always, reach out to us and your representative with all feedback, questions, and concerns. You can reach us at unitesummitteachers@gmail.com

The following Summit Bargaining Team members attended: Diane Tavenner, CEO; Kelly Garcia, Chief of Staff; and Jimmy Zuniga, Everest Executive Director.