Frustrated Teachers Union Enters Eighth Month of Negotiations

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Ever since March 22 of this year, the Sequoia District Teachers Association (SDTA) has been negotiating for a new contract. Interviewed union representatives are frustrated with how little the district has budged, particularly over salary increases. The next contract will extend from the beginning of this school year until the end of the next school year. SUHSD teachers have technically been working without a contract for months. 

Finalizing a contract typically takes several months. The union offers an initial proposal at the first session, and at each subsequent session the district and union take turns proposing terms for the new contract. Negotiations usually finish between August and December. This year, negotiators have had bargaining sessions in May, August, and three times in September.

Contract negotiations typically cover salary, working conditions, and health benefits. This year, the union seeks a higher salary to match ever-rising inflation and improve working conditions for counselors, school psychologists, paraprofessionals, and special education teachers.

Salary

Initially, the union proposed an 18% salary increase over two years: 10% in 2023-24 and 8% in 2024-25. The district’s most recent counteroffer, on September 28, was a 7.25% salary increase, with 4.75% in 2023-24 and 2.5% in 2024-25. 

This is not for lack of funds: SUHSD ended the 2022-23 school year with $40 million in unrestricted funds and around $160 million in its total budget. The state of California requires that the district keep 3% in reserve and the school board requires an additional 8% in reserve. The school district has spent $12 million of the remaining unrestricted funds on projects other than teacher salary.

M-A Academic Resource teacher and member of the union bargaining team Cary Milia said, “Since the district has a chunk of money, [the SDTA] really wants to encourage them to prioritize compensation for teachers. The district is losing teachers because we can’t afford to live around here.” 

Once the District and the union agree on a contract that includes salary increases, teachers will be paid the money that they should have been receiving during the 2023-2024 school year under the raised salary.

The uniquely high cost of living in the Bay Area, exacerbated by constantly rising inflation, makes it near-impossible to live in the area on public school teacher salaries. Milia said, “We have teachers that are literally living paycheck to paycheck at this school.”

An M-A Chronicle survey showed that most M-A teachers have to commute more than half an hour to get to work because it is too expensive to live nearby. The survey also shows that high cost of living is the main reason that teachers choose to stop working at M-A. According to Milia, “A lot of teachers have to commute great distances, and this detracts from their ability to serve students. While we do also have teachers that live reasonably close, their rent is so high that they have to start looking for other places to work.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index (CPI) has increased 3.7% in the last 12 months. SUHSD teachers’ most recent raise was 2% in February, 2023. If salaries don’t reflect inflation, teachers essentially receive a pay cut. 

Find current SUHSD salary schedules here.

Working Conditions

The SDTA is also focused on improving working conditions, particularly for counselors, school psychologists, and program specialists in the Special Education department. The union is negotiating to hire an additional program specialist and for amended job descriptions for both school psychologists and program specialists. These changes will increase staff retention in these roles and improve work-life balance.

In addition, the union hopes to negotiate the formation of a committee to discuss counseling ratios. The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250 student-to-counselor ratio but M-A assigns approximately 300 students to each guidance counselor.

According to Woodside High social studies teacher and union bargaining chair Greg Gruszynski, “School psychologists don’t want to work in our district since they face so much overwork. People leave because, even though they love working here, the job descriptions are crazy. We can’t keep school psychologists.” The same holds true for program specialists. Overall, Gruzsynski said, “SUHSD is particularly unreasonable compared to other school districts. That’s why people quit and go and work in other districts.” It is difficult to find professionals to hire in these roles because they require extensive and specific certification. Currently, there are just two school psychologists serving M-A’s more than 2,000 students. 

The M-A community has a stake in these negotiations alongside SDTA members. M-A students, parents, and community members can support the SDTA in their negotiations by speaking at upcoming school board meetings in support of the union and its efforts. Milia said, “We’re trying to communicate to the school board that our students deserve the best, and part of that is prioritizing compensation for teachers so that we can attract and retain the best teachers. It’s in the best interest of both district staff and the community, parents and students especially.” 

Read The Chronicle’s editorial on district spending: “Editorial: A Wasteful Year for the District”.

Amala Raj is a senior at M-A, and it is her second year at the Chronicle. She enjoys using journalism to explore education policy and highlight extraordinary individuals in the community. She is also a part of M-A’s Leadership-ASB, and spends her free time at the beach.

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