Teachers and Board Reflect on Contract Agreement

4 mins read

In the past few months, the Sequoia District Teachers Association (SDTA) protested at the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) board meetings for a pay raise. The protests had a high teacher turnout—over 140 members spread across two meetings—that reflected their dissatisfaction with the slow bargaining process. 

From March to October, the SDTA bargained with the Board. The SDTA’s proposal was a two-year agreement with raises of 8% in 2023-24 and 7% in 2024-25. The Board counteroffered 4.75% in 2023-24 and 2.5% in 2024-25. Ultimately, they settled on a one-year agreement with a 7.75% raise along with other benefits regarding leave, healthcare, and more. The SDTA held an online ratification election that ratified the agreement with a 97% vote on November 7 to 9, and the Board of Trustees approved the agreement with a 4-0 vote on November 27. One month after the agreement, The M-A Chronicle spoke to teachers and Board members about the implications of the new contract.

Regarding the raise, Biology teacher Rachel Richards said, “I’m happy they did it, but I wish that it hadn’t been such a struggle to get this. I’m relieved, is the best way to say it, and worried about how much of a fight it’s going to be in the future to continue getting what we want because this should not have been such a big deal.”

However, social sciences teacher Stephanie Cuff-Alvarado noted how inflation makes the raise feel smaller than it looks. She said, “I feel as though I can take a small breath as this will allow me to keep up, but this raise really just brings my salary back to its value from a few years ago. It doesn’t entirely feel like a raise so much as maintaining the original value of my wage. While the number itself looks quite large compared to previous years, inflation and the post-COVID economy have been brutal on a lot of folks, so I want to be very clear that I am quite thankful for this financial support.”

Woodside art teacher Julie Marten agreed, saying, “The deal is acceptable, but quite disappointing. It is far better than the previous district offer of 4.75% this year and 2.5% next year, which was insulting at best, because it was asking us to take a massive reduction in real wages given that 2022 saw the greatest inflation rates in California in 40 years. This raise is better but does not meet the losses from inflation, and we have no guarantee that we will see improvement when we settle next year. The raise is more of a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), but one that falls short of inflation.”

Todd Beal, a member of the District’s bargaining team and the Assistant Superintendent for SUHSD’s Human Resources, is confident the agreement addresses the negotiated items in a fair manner and will assist staff, as well as the recruitment and retention of district employees. He said, “One of the most important factors to consider in reaching an agreement is the fiscal solvency of the district. The district must consider current expenditures associated with the daily operations of the schools, department, and district. We must also consider projected expenditures for the following years.”

He continued, “Districts don’t know the actual amount they will receive for a given year until around September of that year. Salary increase proposals, such as the 7.75% agreed upon in negotiations, take in consideration the district’s ability to offer the same percent to other labor groups (classified employees and management), and maintain fiscal solvency and legal requirements.”

These factors also explain why the agreement only outlined a one-year contract rather than a two-year contract the Union was hoping for. 

SUHSD Board President Richard Ginn said, “As SDTA members stated, the district is not a bank. That is, the goal of a school district is not to build up the largest reserve that it can. Instead, the district aims to spend all of its revenues each year while maintaining a reserve for received and unexpected expenses can arise. The balancing act for the school board is to spend as much as we can each year without jeopardizing the financial health of the district.”

This year, the District had $40 million in reserves and $160 million in its total budget; According to The Almanac, the contract reached will cost $10 million dollars.

Ginn elaborated that the COVID-19 pandemic created an unusually large reserve of state and federal government funds. The Board aims to spend more than they receive this year to “burn through some of the reserve.” However, the balancing act continues as too high of a burn rate could create losses if revenue does not catch up in time.

Still, teachers expressed frustration over having the contract for only one year. Head of the History Department Candace Bolles said, “We like to do a two-year deal because it gives us the freedom to just take a breath and not have to worry about it next year. But the district was not willing to guarantee anything for next year because they don’t know what their financial numbers will be. So we have to go to a reopener next year on the salary and other decisions.”

English teacher Cary Milia, who was on the Union’s bargaining team, said, “We were hoping to get a salary increase settled for the second year so that our members can know what to expect and be able to make more informed decisions regarding their finances.”

Marten said, “I am very frustrated that two years of salary increases were not negotiated. I understand the Union had to make a hard choice, but we need to have at least the same increase in the next round to come close to the union’s initial proposals or to offset the massive cut in real wages we have taken the last two years. Even if inflation slows down, that does not change the increases of the past two years, and we are still reeling from those.”

Richards hopes the negotiation helps increase teacher recruitment and retention. She explained, “[Teacher] turnover negatively impacts the whole community. These aren’t just my colleagues—they’re my friends, my community, my family. It’s so heartbreaking when teachers leave.”

English teacher Erin Walsh said, “After this agreement, I think that we can all breathe a bit easier. I know that I’m definitely more comfortable, especially going into the holiday season.”

On next year’s and future agreements, Ginn said, “The revenues for next year are currently very uncertain which limits the amount that the Board can commit to at this time.” The District and the SDTA will wait until this academic year’s expenses are finalized and the revenues for next year are more certain, and then discuss the raises that the District can provide.

Beal said, “I believe that both parties will continue to work collaboratively to find opportunities that benefit the teachers, students, and the district.”

Celeste is a junior in her second year of journalism. She is the co-writer of the weekly column Bears Doing Big Things, featuring alumni. She also is a copy-editor and manages the publication's Spanish translations and social media. She enjoys covering issues affecting the M-A community through features and writing Bear Bites about local restaurants. Her story on La Biscotteria was recognized as a top-10 NSPA Blog Post of 2023.

Lindsay is a junior at M-A and is going into her second year of journalism. In her free time, Lindsay likes to spend time with her friends, listen to music, and play tennis and oboe.

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