Teachers, district dispute contract over sub pay deduction

Women are still penalized for being women and being the ones that bear children and take care of them. Those things need to not exist anymore”

— LBUSD Teachers' Union president Sara Hopper

In recent years, several Thurston math teachers saw their paychecks reduced during their maternity leaves to compensate for the pay earned by their substitute teachers. This was due to a board policy currently being disputed that subtracts substitute pay from the teacher’s pay. In some cases, sub compensation was raised in order to attract more qualified subs, which left teachers with less salary while on leave. 

“We have a disagreement in how our contract is interpreted,” said LBUSD Teachers’ Union president Sara Hopper. “[The district] believes that it was interpreted that the teacher would pay the actual rate of pay. We interpreted that differently as we feel the actual rate of pay is $150 because that is what it says in our contract and in the board policy for pay.”

Long-term substitutes usually receive $150 per day. In some instances, substitute pay for math classes was raised to $350 per day. Substitute pay is subtracted from the teacher’s usual salary of around $500. This left these teachers with only a $150 per day pay rate compared to the $350 they anticipated. 

In our district, we pay subs based on an established rate schedule that is generally tied to the duration of the substitute assignment. However, the scarcity of available subs or a need for special expertise will sometimes dictate payment of an even higher rate by the district, which does affect pay deductions in certain situations,” said Deputy Superintendent Leisa Winston.

Teachers believe it is extremely important to secure substitutes who can effectively take control of their classes for long periods of time; however, when it results in large pay decreases in their salary during maternity leave, financial challenges arise.

“I feel it would be fair for the district to pick up the difference, especially if they were not happy with those who had applied. To my understanding, all three of us had multiple applicants, but the district was not happy with those applicants. Likely for good reason, but I feel that shouldn’t fall on us,” said math teacher April Coffman, who previously worked for Corona-Norco Unified School District that had a consistent long-term sub rate.

Instead of compensating the teachers by paying the difference for the subs that yield higher wages, the district has decided to negotiate through arbitration. Arbitration is essentially a legal process in which an impartial judge makes a binding decision. In this case, the judge will decide whether the teachers should be compensated for the extra money they lost. The negotiation process will begin at the end of February.

Laguna Beach is not the first district locally to hire a long-term substitute at a higher rate. The difference is that these other districts have incurred the additional cost so that the financial responsibility does not fall on the individual teacher,” said math teacher Katie Quirarte, another individual at Thurston Middle School directly affected by the long-term sub pay policy. 

A 2015 study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that in public schools, 64 percent of secondary school teachers and 89 percent of elementary school teachers were female. In a female dominated profession, many teachers could face this problem as they plan to start a family. 

“Women are still penalized for being women and being the ones that bear children and take care of them. Those things need to not exist anymore,” said Hopper. 

The added stress and pressure of losing nearly double as much money as anticipated prevents mothers from being able to solely focus on their newborn child.

Our family had to drastically cut costs and dip into our savings, which has postponed our ability to buy a house,” said math teacher Heather Miner. “I wonder how a policy can remain in our contract when as educators we know how vital the connection with a newborn baby is to healthy neurological development. It seems like all they want is for teachers to take less time and come back to work.”

Ultimately, the dispute is over what the contract means. Because the district and the teachers cannot come to an agreement, they will look to negotiate.

“While some clearly do not like the contract language that outlines sub pay deductions, the district cannot simply ignore the language that was formally negotiated and agreed to by the teachers union. We are open to discussing this item when we return to the negotiating table in 2020; however, until and unless that happens, we are legally obligated to implement the terms of the current contract,” said Winston.