Freeway Fliers

Life in the fast lane brings little reward for part-time teachers

Photo by Keith MayDoug Evans is an English as a second language (ESL) teacher who lives in Chino Hills. Although he's officially a part-time teacher, Evans works six days per week—every day except Sunday. To make ends meet, Evans holds down three separate part-time teaching jobs in Southern California, one each at Mount San Antonio Community College in Walnut, Rio Hondo Community College near Whittier, and the Santa Ana-based Rancho Santiago College District.

Evans spends most of his time not in the classroom but on the freeway, driving from one campus to another in an endless rush that helps explain why there is a nickname for part-time community-college teachers like himself, who are increasingly relied upon by cash-strapped school districts: "freeway fliers."

At least he has something to think about during the long drives: working without a contract since June 1997, Evans and teachers like him are considering Rancho Santiago's latest offer: a new contract with a 0 percent increase.

Evans received his ESL teaching degree from Cal State Fullerton three years ago and says he first heard about freeway fliers from other students in the program. "I figured I would have to pay my dues for a while until a full-time position came up at one of the community colleges," he said.

So far, that hasn't happened. In fact, full-time teaching positions at Southern California community colleges are almost impossible to come by. Faced with enrollments that far outpace revenues, community colleges have increasingly let full-time slots remain unfilled—and, considering the vast number of candidates, those that are available are virtually impossible to land.

In July, Evans learned he hadn't been selected out of a field of 200 applicants for the only full-time position he's heard about in recent months. While Evans says he loves his students—and has no regrets about his chosen craft—he and hundreds of other freeway fliers who teach in the Rancho Santiago district may finally be losing their patience.

Evans is a member of the Continuing Education Faculty Association (CEFA), one of four professional associations that represent part-time and full-time teachers at Rancho Santiago Community College. Along with Evans, CEFA's membership at Rancho Santiago includes 100 of the school's roughly 600 part-time teachers, all of whom teach noncredit courses and who make up the bulk of the school's faculty. Although for-credit teachers (represented by both the California School Employees Association and the Rancho Santiago Faculty Association) recently signed contracts with the school district providing their members with annual salary increases of 3 percent to 6 percent, the school, which scarcely recognizes the CEFA, refused its members a similar offer.

The standoff started on June 30, 1997, when CEFA's last contract expired. Negotiations on a new one didn't start in earnest until February of this year but have so far gone nowhere. "We asked for a 6 percent increase, and they said no," explained Dave Hall, secretary of Rancho Santiago's CEFA. "Last week, we asked the school what it wanted, and they offered us a multiyear contract with a 0 percent increase for the next three years. The full-time teachers deserve their increase, but we feel really undervalued. It's just not fair."

According to Hall, while CEFA has no plans to sign the offered contract, it still lacks the power to force a better deal for its membership. The real challenge, said Hall, is to organize more part-time instructors. "Every time we have a meeting, we tell the membership that the school is still offering us 0 percent," he said. "We gained 20 members in the past two weeks and hope to double our membership between now and December."

According to John Didion, Rancho Santiago's human-resources director, a 0 percent increase is what the school can afford to pay. "We only receive 50 percent of the payment from the state to cover the cost of noncredit courses," Didion said. "It's a public-policy issue that has to do with the fact that our central mission is accredited education toward a degree. We've done a salary survey of the other college districts that are major players in the noncredit arena, and we pay more per hour than they do."

Didion faxed figures to the Weekly showing that a part-time teacher at Rancho Santiago can earn up to $32.95 per hour, compared with only $28.50 at Mount San Antonio College or $30 in the North Orange County Community College District.

While those figures are indeed correct, CEFA did its own survey of four other school districts and provided a copy to the Weekly. Those figures, which were compiled from human-resources material faxed to the organization from various school districts, revealed that Golden West Community College in Huntington Beach, Orange Coast Community College in Costa Mesa and the Fountain Valley-based Coastline Community College District all pay their part-time instructors up to $40 per hour. Long Beach City College offers its part-time teachers an average hourly wage of $38.

At first blush, any part-time job that pays between $30 and $40 per hour might sound like a good opportunity, but most part-time instructors are paid for only 15 hours of work per week, which usually translates to only $16,000 per year—which is why so many part-time instructors are forced to become freeway fliers to survive. Freeway fliers aren't paid for the time they spend preparing lessons, grading papers or rushing from one school to another. Evans, who works three jobs, figures he earned $33,000 last year.

Moreover, no matter how many part-time jobs they work, freeway fliers like Evans are ineligible for the job benefits available to full-time teachers. "A typical full-time instructor only spends about 15 hours a week in the classroom," explained Evans. "But they get paid for office hours and staff meetings. I get no health benefits, insurance or vacation. I get sick pay and that's about it."

"The school claims that they pay more than other districts, but that isn't true," concluded Jim Holway, a part-time teacher at Rancho Santiago and CEFA shop steward. "The fact is they just won't give us a raise. There really isn't even a discussion. At least from my viewpoint, there ought to be a justification for why they won't do it. We are qualified instructors, and most of us already have our master's degrees. They're dealing with professional people in a very unprofessional way."

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