'I can, I will, don't make me,' teachers plead
Unterreiner acknowledged he was making a personal attack and put the blame squarely on the five board members — John Murrer, Amy Owens, Llaniss Dickinson, Kevin Stafford and Amy Cain and Linnea Vanderville, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services.
“Six of you in this room need to listen to this very carefully,” Unterreiner told the board and Vanderville, “because six of you are holding up the whole process of getting a settlement.”
He told the board he felt like someone who was going through a divorce. At first they get really angry, and then they step back and start to reassess.
“The Susanville Teacher’s Association stands before you once again tonight,” Unterreiner said, “confident, proud, strong and very united. We have the support of our students, their parents, our family members and this community. Teachers provide a valued service, and no one, including the six of you, will minimize our worth. You are forcing us to walk, and walk out of our classrooms. Yes, you are going to bring this district down brick by brick.”
The president said STA was dedicated to getting “a fair and equitable agreement” with the district, but he alleged the district has tried in numerous ways “to back us into a corner.”
According to Unterreiner, “We are going to continue to stand tall and protect our health benefits and obtain a fair compensation.”
Who will pay for future premium increases in the health insurance premiums — the teachers or the district — remains one the biggest obstacles to an agreement between the union and the district.
“This stalemate between you and the Susanville teachers is definitely not about the lack of money,” Unterreiner said. “That is certainly not it. If the five of you (on the board) continue to believe that, you are being misled sorely. No, this struggle has become very personal. When people let personal issues and power struggles into the workplace the result can be very, very destructive.”
Unterreiner said the morale in the district was at an all-time low, but a strike would lower the morale to zero and destroy the trust between the district and the teacher’s union.
“The novelty of a teacher’s strike will last for a day or two,” Unterreiner said. “Then the reality will set in. Parents are going to become very angry. Unhappy students will become unruly. And the efficient educational machine at our school will begin to fall apart. A teacher’s strike will tear this district into fragments that will take an entire generation to heal.”
According to Unterreiner, if there is a strike, parents will take their children to other school districts, and four districts are waiting to accept those students and earn the state apportionment they generate, and the financial loss would affect everyone connected with the district.
The union president said he felt very good when he put a sign in the windshield of his car that read, “Strike?,” but that message was not aimed at the school but at the six people who were blocking an agreement.
“When I put that (sign) in my car, I smile,” Unterreiner said, “because I am very unhappy with you. I cannot believe you claim to be what is good for children.”
Unterreiner said three members of the board had already stated their objective is to put a cap on the teacher’s benefits.
According to the district, it already spends $12,696 per employee in health insurance premiums, an amount that exceeds that spent by most other school districts in Northern California and well above the average paid by school districts in Lassen County.
He said the three board members, Amy Cain, Llaniss Dickinson and Amy Owens attended an STA forum and “made it perfectly clear at that time you had business to take care of, and you were not leaving this board until your business was taken care of, and that business is a health cap. And that is ludicrous.”
Unterreiner urged the other two board members to “end this madness. Start voting the right way. You have issues. You can talk about issues. Don’t let three people run your life.”
Pointing to the teachers in the room, Unterreiner said, “Look at these people. Those are all the people you’re affecting. Six people affecting how many teachers? How many students? That is madness gone to seed.”
The union president alleged the district had more $800,000 in new revenue over the past three years — an amount the district said was incorrect. He said the teachers had received only 2 percent of that $800,000.
“Seventeen years of doom and gloom, that’s all I’ve ever heard,” Unterreiner said. “The sky’s still up there. The buildings are here. Nothing has happened. It’s ridiculous.”
Nearly 20 teachers, most of them with many years of service — and some of them on the verge of tears — took their turn at the front of the audience and told the board they were willing to go on strike if the union and the district could not reach an agreement.
Nearly all of them said, “I can. I will. Please don’t make me,” or some slight variation of that theme.
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