By Katie Cederborg and Rachel Owen
On Thursday, December 7th Santa Rosa City Schools (SRCS) reached a tentative agreement with Santa Rosa Teacher’s Association (SRTA) in regards to the recent controversy in relation to health care and cost of living adjustments. After a year of negotiation between the two organizations the Tentative Agreement will remain intact through June of 2020 if the teachers vote to accept it. If accepted, the agreement allows for an increase in contributions by the District to a total of 2,500 dollars. Although the Tentative Agreement will increase salaries for teachers by 1% by January 1 of 2018, and a 1.5% increase by January 1 of 2019, the compromise may result in laying off teachers, something most view as a negative part of the agreement.
The agreement promises an increase in benefits that go towards healthcare. Although more money is a good thing, the question lies in whether or not the benefits provided by the school district are the best compromise they can provide.
Music teacher, Mark Wardlaw shared that, “[The new tentative agreement] is definitely more money on the salary schedule and more health care dollars than the recently-rejected Tentative Agreement offered…It’s strange, perhaps unprecedented (at least in my 29 years) that the salary improvements take effect in January rather than at the beginning of the school year…We’ve been working without a contract for a year and-a-half, and that’s the soonest any pay raise could be enacted. But the January, 2019 timetable is likely to be sticking point. I suspect the School District would say that, due to the way schools are funded, that January is the soonest they’d have the money from the state to pay us.”
“It does not seem to be a better offer than the one that was already voted down. I would be looking for more compensation…I’m happy to see that they put more towards healthcare as we have a crisis of getting new teachers because teachers don’t want to apply for a job that doesn’t have healthcare,” remarked SRHS social studies teacher Art Horner.
Prior to writing the current tentative agreement, the district had unbiased fact checkers look at their budget in order to determine what could be budgeted for salaries and benefits. The fact finding report showed that the budget had room for increases to both salaries and benefits.
“I think the district can do better than this offer, and my preference would be that we not lock into so long a period without the option of going back to the table for more money in 2019 if finances improve,” replied Wardlaw.
Many members of the SRTA recognized that the district wasn’t offering an acceptable contract and voted down the last tentative agreement. There is some concern now about layoffs as school board president Klose has raised the possibility.
Aside from teachers and other staff members who patrol the hallways of campuses across Santa Rosa, the district also hires a significant number of consultants. These district employees put a large toll on the amount of money the district spends annually.
“Our school district spends too little on their teachers and more on consultants and outside help than is necessary. I think they should move some of that money from consultants and outside costs back to the classroom,” said Horner.
The timeline given is also split between two school years which complicates many components for incoming staff members. “People with “’real’ jobs don’t work or get paid on a school calendar. So, in effect, the 1% the district is offering for January, 2018 through December, 2018 is an annual raise. It’s just that it bridges two school years,” said Wardlaw.
As of December 8th the union leaders have agreed to the tentative agreement proposed. Still, there are many members of the SRTA that are developing their own opinions on the specific terms offered.
“[I predict] this one will pass. We have far too many teachers who are struggling, and they need the money – even if I and some of the other older and higher-earning teachers think it’s not enough,” said Wardlaw.
Teachers will be voting on this contract beginning on December 14. The results of the vote should be clear before the winter break.