IT would take several articles to respond to the recent proliferation of emotional rhetoric, disinformation and false propaganda regarding Hayward teacher negotiations. Instead, I would like to discuss what the focus should be — the students.

Union leadership (HEA) continually claims that everything they do is for the "best interest of the students," and "students come first." I believe that most teachers really do have the best interests of the students at heart, but the same cannot be said of their union. It is proper that the primary concern of the union be its members, as stated on HEA's Web site: "The Hayward Education Association exists to protect and promote the well-being of its

1,300 members." Nowhere on their front page is there a mention of students.

No strike is in the best interest of students, period. In my view, a strike that negatively impacts students is never justified. I applaud the few courageous Hayward teachers who "walked the walk" by bravely crossing picket lines and enduring abuse and threats in order to truly put their students first.

I agree that teachers "deserve" more, but to ignore what the district can afford is not in the best interest of students.

If students really come first, why have I not heard HEA (nor anyone but the school board) ask first, "What educational 'raise' or increase do the students 'deserve' and 'need'?" Then let's see what we can afford to give teachers and other employees. I hear no one asking if our students will get an increase in instructional minutes, for example. I hear no one asking, "What cuts in student programs and services made in recent few years should be restored?" Better yet, where do we need to increase services to students?

For example, I would like to increase tutoring for struggling students and restore real GATE classes for gifted students. I would like to decrease combination grade classes. I would like to increase the rigor and relevance of our high school curricula, augment career technical education and perhaps increase the units required for graduation. The wish list is long.

Instead, HEA has steadfastly demanded salary increases that would require further cuts to student services and programs. This has been confirmed by multiple independent experts and mediators. So I ask HEA and the community, what cuts would you suggest in order to fund what HEA has demanded? Sports? Music & arts? Class-size reduction? Teacher prep periods? Transportation and field trips? Teacher training/mentoring, counselors, security?

HEA always responds, "cut administration!" However, administration costs as a percent of total budget is 40 percent less than the state average. Hayward teacher compensation as a percent of budget has been about 9 percent higher than state average, even though revenues per ADA (student attendance) are below average.

I receive many calls and e-mails from people wanting the school board to end the strike. Only HEA has the power to do so, but the union leadership is not elected by the public, nor accountable to it. Only five school board members are so elected and so accountable. As such, the students really are my only priority. I cannot and will not agree to anything that requires deficit spending or cuts in needed programs and services to students. I implore our teachers to recognize this reality and return to the classroom.

Jeff Cook is a trustee of the Hayward Unified School District Board of Education.