By Joe Piasecki
Faculty and administrators are at an impasse as Pasadena City College seeks to forge a new teacher contract to replace one that expired in June.
The administration’s proposal would limit the earning potential of veteran instructors and switch to a trimester system. PCC President Mark Rocha said the changes would make classes available to as many students as possible in a time of crippling state budget cuts.
Leaders of the PCC Faculty Assn. have not come to the negotiating table. They say their opposition to the administration plan is a principled stand against balancing the budget on the backs of teachers while reducing student access to classes.
In 2011, full-time PCC professors earned more than $3.9 million in extra pay for taking on additional class assignments, according to salary data released by the college.
With those and other extra earnings, including compensation for taking on larger classes, 63 teachers boosted their annual pay beyond $130,000 in 2011. PCC’s highest-paid teacher made $196,000 last year, not including benefits.
Facing at least $10 million in budget cuts next year, college leaders propose limiting the number of extra classes that full-time faculty can opt to teach.
“It is more fair to spread salary benefits to all faculty rather than to make large payouts to relatively few,” Rocha said. “The current system incentivizes financial self-interest and overwork by teachers.”
By shifting more duties to adjunct professors, the college could save about $2 million annually, Rocha said. A class taught by an adjunct professor costs about $5,500, compared to around $12,500 for a full-time teacher exceeding his or her normal workload.
“It’s an awful lot to pay when we’re having to reduce classes,” said Jeanette Mann, a member of the PCC Board of Trustees.
English professor Roger Marheine, head of the PCC faculty union, said college leaders have long encouraged teachers to take on extra students and classes — and the extra pay that comes with it — in lieu of salary increases. In early 2011, the faculty union agreed to reductions in how much teachers can earn by taking on extra students.
“The college makes enormous amounts of money from large-group instruction and then turns around and stabs us in the back with the notion the faculty are somehow fattening their paycheck with it,” Marheine said.
The union also opposes the proposal to convert PCC’s academic year from two semesters and a pair of inter-sessions in summer and winter into a trimester system, fearing a shift from four to three academic periods will cut the number of classes available.
“We want the highest possible number of classes taught. It’s good for the students and good for the faculty,” said Marheine, who said reduced class offerings this summer have hit adjunct professors particularly hard.
Rocha said state cuts are forcing the college to gut summer and winter offerings, and by switching schedules the college can beef up fall and spring offerings to help make up the difference. The trimester system would open up more seats for students, he said.
Students have made their voices heard in a series of protests and comments at PCC board meetings this year, once forcing the trustees to retreat to a small conference room to conduct the meeting without interruption. Students have echoed union literature, sometimes verbatim, in challenging administration spending priorities.
Marheine said teachers support student protests, but aren’t orchestrating them.
Mann offered a different view. “When you have several students saying the exact same thing [as the union], it leads me to question the source,” she said. “Students say that what we say is not what their teachers tell them.”
PCC board President Geoffrey Baum said college officials are open to negotiations ahead of the school’s Sept. 5 budget deadline but have yet to receive a union counterproposal.
“We’re going to have to take serious measures to deal with declining revenue from the state and be creative to offer as many classes to students as we can,” Baum said.