COC faculty members affirm contract needs

Teachers crowd the College of the Canyons board room with shirts and signs demanding a "fair contract now!" prior to a board meeting Wednesday evening. Cory Rubin/The Signal

With no contract agreement made, the faculty of College of the Canyons crowded into Hasley Hall on Wednesday to speak to the college’s board of trustees in advance of next week’s negotiations.

The nearly 90 teachers who were in attendance brought their “fair contract now” signs, donned their neon green T-shirts and crammed to find a space inside the meeting room. Some faculty members had to set up a canopy in the rain outside just to catch a view of the events inside.

A total of 11 speakers would take the podium prior to the closed session of Wednesday night’s board of trustees meeting to speak on why they teach, the impact that faculty have on students and why they feel their asking price — a 5.5 percent salary increase — is fair.

“I am here tonight because the inequity in our institutional system is severely eroding faculty morale and motivation,” said biology professor Jeannie Charie. “While there are several points of inequity, I will cover the most critical three,” she added before speaking on the myriad supports teachers provide and how her last salary increase of $4 a day is not enough.

“Faculty work hard,” said Nicole Faudree — vice president of the college’s faculty association — who mentioned how faculty have assisted in many of the college’s recent successful initiatives.

“When adjusted for cost of living, the district’s general fund revenue has increased by 40 percent over the past 10 years, and the average administrative salary has increased by 15 percent,” Faudree said. “In stark contrast, the average full-time faculty salary has decreased by 0.07 percent.”

Teachers make a tremendous difference in the lives of many students, according to the multiple faculty members who spoke Wednesday, but they still struggle to climb the career ranks and afford to live in the Santa Clarita Valley — a place some have called home since childhood.

As one of the better colleges in the nation, College of the Canyons prides itself on the success of its students, 14-year faculty member Kelly Burke said. “Much of this is due to the fact that our faculty provide outstanding learning experiences for our students.”

“But I’m starting to lose confidence that the college can attract, hire and retain the best faculty,” Burke said, adding that she’s also concerned for the young faculty members on campus. “I’m starting to think about retirement,” but the young faculty members can’t afford to live in the community and raise their children here — even though they do want to.

The college’s stellar reputation is reliant upon everyone who works there, but the classroom is the core, Burke said. “The district has a critical, ethical and moral decision to make. Does it value the classroom? Does it value its own legacy?”

Per protocol, the board was unable to respond to any of the comments made Wednesday night, but board President Michael Berger said negotiations will continue Wednesday with a state-appointed mediator.

“The college values and recognizes the role of all employees that (have a role) in the success of our students,” Berger said at the conclusion of the speeches before joining his peers in closed session. “We are currently in mediation with the faculty union to negotiate a new contract and have our next meeting planned for next Wednesday the 20th. We are confident that the bargaining process will yield a fair and positive outcome.”

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