Level the Playing Field for LAUSD’s CTE Teachers
By Karin Kroener-Valdivia
When I taught at Los Angeles River High School, now called Sotomayor Arts and Sciences Magnet, one of our educators was an urban farmer named Mr. Flores. Mr. Flores single-handedly transformed a narrow strip of unused land behind the campus into a working farm, complete with pigs and chickens that ate the school’s food scraps, making the school a zero-waste facility. Even the most reluctant students came alive on Mr. Flores’ farm. Students lit up when they showed off the peppers or tomatoes they were growing, or when they explained the irrigation system they helped install.
Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers like Mr. Flores are the anchor of the pathway programs at their schools. While all schools are required to offer A-G courses such as English, math, history, science, I believe it is the CTE offerings that give many schools their unique focus.
CTE classes are not just fun and engaging for students, they are also academically rigorous and provide hands-on, real-world projects, where learning comes to life in an authentic way. These classes prepare students for industry certifications and expose them to a range of career opportunities tied to forecasted job demand. In LAUSD, the mission of its CTE program is to “provide industry-linked programs and services that enable all individuals to reach their career goals in order to achieve a high-quality lifestyle, to be competitive in the global marketplace, and to sustain California’s economic dominance.” It is a worthy goal which the district should be working harder to reach.
LAUSD is currently experiencing a teacher shortage and CTE vacancies are even more difficult to fill given that these positions are not granted the same status as those of the A-G teachers. First, LAUSD CTE teachers differ in status from A-G teachers in that they are paid less, but they are held to the same evaluation standards. CTE teachers earn a starting hourly rate of $45.26, equating to approximately $49,000 per year. The starting annual salary of A-G teachers (with no salary points) is $53,435. CTE teachers can reach a maximum pay of around $64,540 per year, while A-G teachers can attain a maximum annual salary of $93,555 (formula based on years of service and post-graduate education).
Second, a standard CTE teaching position consists of teaching six classes a day, straight through, while A-G teachers are allowed one “prep period” per day. Some CTE teachers may work at a campus that funds their prep period, but as a rule, those opportunities are not the norm. Most CTE teachers are left with having all their planning and grading time unpaid. Being an hourly contractual employee also disqualifies CTE teachers from certain roles that result in getting paid stipends for additional duties performed on school campuses.
Lastly, CTE teachers are not offered a path to becoming a permanent teacher the way A-G teachers are and instead must continually re-sign year-to-year contracts. AB388, a bill that would have helped create a path for California CTE teachers to become permanent employees, has unfortunately been suspended.
Part of my role in the CTE-Linked Learning Office is helping to recruit CTE teachers. In week 11 of the 2021–22 school year, 16 CTE positions remain unfilled. The most difficult positions to find teachers for are the engineering, biotech, law, information technology and robotics classes. These are exactly the types of CTE classes we want for our students so they can be exposed to career paths that lead to the jobs that will be in high demand in the future. If we can’t find enough of the candidates we currently need, then we should be actively working to retain the teachers we have!
I wonder how this two-tiered system of treating CTE teachers differently even began in LAUSD? CTE teachers are teaching content side-by-side with A-G teachers, in the same schools, to the same students. If you want to retain the strong CTE teachers you have now, then maybe CTE teachers should also be made eligible for the $5,000 signing bonus that is currently being offered to new LAUSD A-G teachers, retroactive to the beginning of this school year.
The bonus would help CTE teachers pay for their credentialing program, which is roughly that amount.
Offering a bonus to CTE teachers is only the first step. The district should also conduct a longer-term policy review around the importance of CTE classes in general, and how to bring equity to the teachers teaching those classes. CTE needs to be elevated to the place of relevance it holds in today’s schools. Our students deserve to have every career path open to them and CTE is a key part of how we make this happen.
Karin Kroener-Valdivia is a CTE-Linked Learning Specialist in LAUSD and a Teach Plus California Policy Fellowship alumna.