Over 40 members of the Sequoia District Teachers Association (SDTA) protested for higher wages that reflect rising inflation at a regular meeting of the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) Board on Wednesday, October 11.
Teachers displayed colorful signs with messages like, “quality costs money,” “put your money where your values are,” and “invest in our children’s futures.”
The SDTA has been negotiating with the District for a new contract since late March. The District has continued to meet their percent raise proposals with disappointing counteroffers.
“Members have been getting increasingly frustrated with the slowness of the process and then more and more frustrated and insulted by the District’s financial offers,” said SDTA President Edith Salvatore to the M-A Chronicle after the meeting. “We don’t have direct access to the Board, so we felt it was time for them to hear directly.”
Some teachers voiced their dissatisfaction aloud in public comment.
“Our district used to be one of the few that paid a salary that allowed [teachers] to live in the district they served,” said Patrick Roisen, a Biology teacher who has worked at M-A for the last 27 years. “However, that distinction is gone. If I switch to Mountain View-Los Altos [School District], for example, even though I would lose half of my seniority, I’d instantly make $40,000 more every year.”
He continued, “According to the Federal Bureau of Labor’s stats, in the timespan of 2020 to 2023, the cost of living in the Bay Area increased over 13 percent. At the same time, our salaries have only gone up by seven percent, meaning it has cost us money to work in this district. All we’re asking for is to make up for the lost ground.”
Rising living costs have forced teachers to move farther away from their schools or find jobs elsewhere.
M-A History Department Chair Candace Bolles shared, “I cannot afford to live in this community, and I spend an hour each day commuting in the morning and another hour in the evening commuting home.”
M-A science teacher Dr. Rachel Richards said, “I have watched awesome teachers come to M-A, grow their teaching practice, and time and time again, leave to move to a more affordable area.”
Bolles also added that the constant rotation of teachers can put a strain on school departments. “Last year, we lost two teachers in the history department,” she said. “The year before that, we lost five teachers. And the year before that, we lost four teachers. The history department of M-A has 17 teachers, so losing four or five teachers a year is 25-30% of the department that we must replace every year.”
Teachers also shared that insufficient salaries reduce diversity among staff. “Don’t we want to attract teachers that represent our student population?” Richards asked. “How can we do this if we don’t offer reasonable salaries that enable us to live here?”
M-A Ethnic Studies and U.S. History teacher as well as Black Student Union (BSU) Advisor Chloe Gentile-Montgomery said that this year is probably the most that Black students have ever asked her, “Where are the other Black teachers?”
She said, “Unfortunately, I have to answer that I am the only Black teacher here and that other Black teachers cannot afford to live in this area. And honestly, I can barely afford to live here either. It’s really heartbreaking to see that our staff does not reflect our students because of the exorbitant cost of living in the area.”
In addition, teachers highlighted that they work far beyond the job descriptions that salaries are based upon.
Gentile-Montgomery explained, “I am the club advisor for BSU. That means once a week I’m unable to take a lunch break. I usually am unable to take a lunch break because students enjoy hanging out in my classroom. I’m often working before and after school to plan lessons and get grading done, and I’m also commuting to and from work for about 20-30 minutes.”
Sequoia Geometry teacher Subathra Ramanathan said, “If you divide our salary by the number of hours that we actually spend working, you will understand that the raise we’re asking for is a question of justice, a question of reparations for the number of hours teachers give that are unaccounted for.”
Teachers say the District could easily produce funds for higher wages.
Roisen explained, “The district has a $40 million excess, which is much more than what state law or district policy requires.”
At the meeting, SUHSD Speech and Language Pathologists (SLP) also highlighted that the District’s conditions for an experience to qualify as “work experience” are unusually strict. This means that new and current SLPs receive lower salaries than they would at other districts because less of their work experience actually counts.
“We have a lot of [past work experience], as our profession is medical and clinical in nature,” said SLP Robin Costa. “However, these years of experience are currently not counted in this district, even though the therapy and assessments we do are the same no matter what setting we’re in.”
“Service providers should be able to count all applicable years of experience to their salary placements, as we obtain work experiences in all settings, not just exclusive to the school systems. This is the only school district that provided me with so many issues getting my experiences to count,” agreed SLP Jordan Hatch.
As a result, the District has had a hard time recruiting new SLPs and is currently understaffed. Costa said, “We cannot seem to attract the SLPs that we need. Many students are currently going without services, which is heartbreaking.”
After public comment, Superintendent Crystal Leach said, “I would like to acknowledge our teachers in this room and our teachers that are attending online. I want you to know that I see you, I see your signs, and I’m very hopeful that we will make progress in our next session towards the end of the month.”
As for the SDTA’s future plans, Salvatore said, “Right now, we have two more bargaining sessions scheduled—the 27th [of October] and November 6th—and I’m still optimistic we’ll be able to come to an agreement. We’ve made a lot of progress in a lot of areas that aren’t financial.”
However, she continued, “If we get to a point where we can’t move and they won’t move, then that’s a point at which impasse is declared, then there are mandatory steps that would go through and those are the kinds of things that you see, like today, United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) in San Francisco is taking a strike authorization vote. We don’t want to get there, and we don’t think with the amount of money the District has that there’s any reason to even contemplate that, so we’re hopeful that we can […] get this settled so people can get their new salaries and paychecks in time for the new year, if not right after.”
Other Key Moments From the Meeting:
In reference to the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, Board Trustee Amy Koo said, “I just wanted to start off by saying that I’m saddened by the violence in Gaza and my heart goes out to those in our district that are impacted.”
In a later comment, Salvatore responded, “Thank you for raising the topic […] Specifically, you referenced the situation in Gaza. I would hope that you would mention the situation in Israel and Gaza and that that was just a momentary mispeaking.”
Salvatore then described her experience working this week while hearing news of the conflict, saying, “Each day this week was a difficult day to get through. And while we’re dealing with that, we are also providing that support to our students. Sometimes without training. Always without compensation. Often without recognition. But we do it because that’s what our students need.”
Public commenters also discussed the ongoing issue of detracking at SUHSD schools.
“Over 800 of your constituents have expressed their support of honors classes and I promise you that the true amount of constituent support is much, much higher,” said Carlmont student Marcus Oettinger. “You were elected to represent the interests of the students and the parents of the District. We have demonstrated that we support honors classes time and time again. Any vote against that is an insult to the people that could put you in your position.”
In response, Roisen said, “As someone who has decades of experience teaching both tracked classes and de-tracked, and one of the few people that genuinely has data about which is better, despite some students and parents feeling that [Advanced Standing] classes are the only way to be successful, detracking biology has improved my AP Biology pass rates and how many of my students get fours and fives [on the AP exam]. Data should be what drives our decision.”
Watch the rest of the board meeting here.