Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Teachers gathered at the Redwood City Elementary School District board meeting to ask for raises Wednesday night.
Troves of teachers armed with protest posters and shirts which read “No teacher left behind” showed up to a meeting Wednesday night to ask the Redwood City Elementary School District administration for a raise.
Teachers crowded the boardroom to advocate for a raise since they haven’t received a cost-of-living adjustment or across-the-board salary increase since the 2007-08 school year and the Redwood City Teachers Association is in the process of negotiations with the district. The room was so packed that when one audience member passed out and was taken away by ambulance, the fire marshal said the boardroom was over capacity and some had to leave for safety concerns.
“We always encourage staff members, parents and community members to attend our board meetings. Last night was a much larger turnout than usual, and had we realized how many would be in attendance we would have held the meeting in a larger venue, such as the auditorium at McKinley Institute of Technology, so that everyone could have a comfortable seat and hear the proceedings,” Superintendent Jan Christensen said in a statement.
Teachers like Estelle Darrow, a teacher at McKinley Institute of Technology, shared their experiences and need for a pay raise. Darrow explained how she continued to help students and substitutes even while struggling with breast cancer and how costs have gone up. She noted since the district has a copy limit and made other supply cuts, teachers are paying for a lot more resources out of pocket.
“We don’t want to leave the district,” Darrow said. “We’re connected to our families, both past and present. The problem, and it sincerely is a major problem, in our lives now is that we haven’t received a cost-of-living increase in many, many years. It’s time to take a look at how deeply each of us is truly hurting.”
In November 2013, teachers and administrators reached an impasse after they failed to come to an agreement over a new contract after the union requested a 7 percent pay increase that could be spread out over two years. The district countered with a 2 percent raise beginning on July 1. The district’s offer included a one-time payment this year equal to 1 percent of salaries, according to the district. For the 2013-14 school year, the district offered a one-time 2.6 percent salary increase. This would be comprised of a 1 percent off-schedule bonus and a reduction of three workdays equivalent to a 1.6 percent salary increase, according to the district.
District officials moved the public comment up to accommodate the large crowd of teachers who wanted to speak to the board Wednesday night. Board Vice President Dennis McBride said he was excited to see so many hardworking teachers and staff at the meeting.
“They work incredibly hard to make students successful,” he said. “It’s a shame the state has underfunded us. We’re looking forward to progress in the negotiations.”
The new state Local Control Funding Formula sends $2.1 billion more to school districts that have high numbers of students from lower-income families, who have limited English proficiency or are foster children. The district receives $141 per pupil with the new formula, receiving $1.3 million total from the state incrementally, McBride said. There is still a $2.5 million deficit, he said. When he joined the board in 2003, the district had 8,000 students and approximately $95 million. Today it has 9,000 students and $80 million, he previously said.
McBride previously said the district absolutely wants to give teachers, staff and administrators a raise, but it just doesn’t have the wherewithal. Currently, certified, credentialed teachers make between $45,495 starting to $84,938 annually.
Meanwhile, the union’s lead negotiator, Bill Crow, said if not for the teachers, classified employees, students and parents who make every single operational function possible, there would be no school district. Crow shared that the percentage the district spends on teachers has gone down from 44 percent to 40 percent in the past several years, while the administrative percent has gone down 1.5 percent.
“My purpose in addressing you here tonight is to seek respect, and the remuneration that goes hand in hand with that respect,” he said. “We have also been told that we must be patient, and wait until the district has recouped all the losses they have suffered in the past, and that this could take seven years. What kind of employees are you going to end up with in seven years of no raises? … We have been patient long enough, and respectfully ask for the salary increase we have earned.”
Union president Bret Baird said it’s time for the district to come together and do the right thing by investing in an extremely talented pool of teachers since the district will have the money to do so.
“First come the parents because without them there would be no students, then once you have enough students you need a teacher to teach them,” he said. “Over the past six and half years we have been told that we were the district’s first priority. Suddenly, this school year, we have been moved down to number three. Why? During the down economy, when we expressed our concerns with the district, we were told ‘if you are not happy here, leave.’”
Baird went on to say the teachers have done everything asked of them under difficult circumstances such as dramatic class size increases and still managed to increase test scores.
“Kennedy’s 80 point gain helped Superintendent Christensen get superintendent of the year,” he said.
Christensen appeared visibly upset by the comment.
Parents also came to speak.
“It’s time to give them a raise,” said Michelle Houseler. “They come to school early just to help my kids and other kids. No one, besides me and my husband, are more important than the teachers in my kids’ lives.”
On the other hand, Christensen said teachers absolutely deserve a raise, but the district sustained very deep cuts from the state, and it’s not close to being back to where it was in the 2006-07 school year.
“We hope that a growing state economy will lead to increased funding over the next few years so that we can afford to provide increased compensation to our hard-working staff,” she said in the statement.
Trustee Alisa MacAvoy added to those statements, noting most of the attendees don’t come to regular board meetings or see board members at committee meetings or see them fighting for money for the district. She noted the board normally doesn’t respond to oral communication, but she felt that it is very important that it did because there were so many teachers, support staff, administrators and others in the audience.
“I know that everyone has worked really hard, harder than you ever have and really everyone in this room ... and know that we absolutely recognize that and because a salary increase is not coming through today, that does not mean we don’t recognize all your hard work and we see it every day and we value it,” she said. “I just want you to know that we absolutely believe that you deserve a raise. We are surrounded by wealthier districts, we know that. I want to thank you, I look forward to working with you and, as money does come in, I look forward to giving you the raise that you deserve.”
The next bargaining meeting is Monday, March 31.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105