by Lindsay Bribiescas

Let’s talk about respect. Respect for teachers, who spend their days in classrooms, entertaining, educating, and caring about students, who show up to school hours before students do and stay until hours later, who tutor students who may be struggling.

Many of them do this because they want to, because they genuinely care about students and want them to succeed. But the simple fact is that while they may love what they do, they can’t survive on love alone.

So why are they expected to get by with a meagerpaycheck? At a recent SRCS Board meeting, Steven Forrest, an educator from Montgomery High, said, “money is a material expression of the respect for teachers [that the district has].” The district recently hired a firm to research and develop a report comparing our budget with those of other comparable districts, like Vallejo and Davis. One of the findings that stands out is that ours had the largest amount of money going to operational needs and consultants, with 21.7% of the total budget going to that category. While, Petaluma’s School District spent 13.3%. The Santa Rosa District has also chosen to hire and pay a variety of consultants $2.48 million in the past year.

Spending decisions like these are at the heart of the matter for teachers currently fighting for a salary increase. Over the past 5 years, teachers have taken pay cuts, accepted furlough days, and continued to work well beyond contract requirements. Many AP teachers provide study sessions outside of school hours — sessions they are no longer paid to lead. They advise clubs and other student organizations like debate, yearbook, student government, and history club. Although advising clubs sometimes offers a stipend to teachers, that stipend rarely compensates for the many hours these teachers spend with these clubs. Further, many teachers personally pay for materials not covered by the limited budget; at Santa Rosa High, teachers often spend anywhere from $200-800 each year, regardless of the department — math, science, art– nearly every department has teachers spending their own money.

Teachers from throughout the district gather to protest for 5% salary increases.

Teachers from throughout the district gather to protest for 5% salary increases.

That revolving door can’t be allowed to continue if we want to support our students. Students need steady teachers, teachers who will be there in coming years, teachers who actually know what they’re doing through experience and consistency. We have that now, but due to the insufficient compensation educators receive for the considerable amount of work they do, many are beginning to look for work elsewhere. “The most important part about this raise isn’t so that I can put put premium gas in my car. It’s so that the Santa Rosa School District can hire and retain the highest quality teachers possible. That’s what this is for. Right now, we have teachers who are going to other places, and we have teachers who are thinking about leaving, because they can make much more money elsewhere. That’s what this is about,” said David Franzman, a history teacher at Santa Rosa High.

If we really want to support our students, we need to keep our educators. We need to have the best educators we can find working with our students. All of the money the district puts into programs won’t mean anything if we have no one to run those programs.

And we won’t have anyone to run these programs if the district continues to treat teachers and the teachers’ union as they have. The union approached the district with a proposal on October 21st, asking for a 3% wage increase and 2% increase in health benefits — this is why teachers have been chanting “5% is fair” at district meetings. District leadership didn’t respond until January 28th, and have repeatedly attended meetings unprepared, if they weren’t outright cancelling meetings or otherwise stalling. The union has filed a lawsuit with PERB (Public Employment Relations Board) against the district for not operating in good faith, as shown by the pattern of stalling. As of Monday, March 16th, the teachers’ union has moved to impasse for the second time. Depending on how mandatory mediation goes, teachers may begin “working to contract” — which means only putting in hours that they are explicitly required to work, the hours for which they are actually compensated. This could include teachers coming in at 7:45, and leaving by 3:15. There would be no after school grading, no after school tutoring, no AP study sessions. There wouldn’t be any clubs or field trips that are not part of a teacher’s assigned duties, and no meetings with parents or students outside of school time. Essentially, many of the ways teachers create a warm, successful community on campus and many of the reasons students want to be here.

Teachers need a realistic offer. With the cheapest health care plan for a single person costing $8940 per year (covering a bare minimum of health issues, primarily car accidents and the like), the district’s offer of $1500 per person per year just isn’t going to cut it. Kaiser Direct, one of the two plans offered to teachers, is going to hike rates 12% in the next year. 2-3% raises, including the 2% raise that went into effect this year, aren’t going to cover it, especially considering the  fact that the cost of living in Sonoma County has dramatically increased in recent years. But while basic living expenses have gotten pricier, teachers have accepted so many pay cuts that their nominal salary is actually lower than it was in 2008.

Although the district presented an offer that looked like a $2000 yearly raise, it was tied to 90 minutes every Monday of district-run trainings. The solution to this is not offering more money for more hours put in, not only because teachers are already putting in plenty of hours, but also because teachers don’t need to be directed for 90 minutes after school on Mondays. We trust teachers enough to educate the kids of Sonoma County for 7 hours everyday; we can trust them to spend their time wisely. Instead, teachers should be fairly compensated for the work they are already putting in.

If we want to continue trusting our teachers, we need to attract and retain good teachers. If we can’t attract and retain good teachers, we can’t have a high quality school system. As Amy Stern, Santa Rosa Teachers’ Union President, said, “You can’t put educators last if you want to put children first.”