Tensions are heightening and emotions are flaring as San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District teachers grow angrier with school officials amidst deadlocked contract negotiations.
Teachers dissatisfied with their pay and the district’s bargaining position staged demonstrations earlier this week as the two sides have been released to fact finding, often the final phase of stalled negotiations pre-empting a strike.
Union President Julie MacArthur, also a teacher at Baywood Elementary School, said educators feel undervalued and disrespected, fueling considerations of a work stoppage if more progress in negotiations is not soon made.
“A majority of our members are ready to do what they need to do to get a fair contract and that includes a strike, no question,” she said.
A district official was not readily available to discuss the issue, but a prepared statement from spokeswoman Amber Farinha expressed administrators’ interest in resolving the contract dispute in short order.
“The San Mateo-Foster City School District will continue to work toward a successful conclusion to these negotiations. During this time, as always, the district’s focus remains on the success and well-being of the students, staff and community we serve,” she said.
MacArthur though questions the district’s motivations, claiming officials are more concerned with stockpiling money in reserves than spending it on those responsible for assuring students are offered a quality education.
“Right now there is an utter breakdown of trust that our district will spend the money on students who need it the most,” she said.
Negotiations grew so contentious that teachers earlier this week parked off the campus at some schools in an effort to demonstrate the appearance of a strike, while other teachers are rallying the support of parents in favor of higher wagers.
MacArthur said these are tough times for teachers feeling increasingly fed up with the ongoing contract strife.
“Tensions are high at this point. We are very frustrated. Unfortunately, as leadership for teachers, it’s really heartbreaking and demoralizing,” MacArthur said.
Officials have claimed the need for fiscal conservatism is essential following the recent narrow failure of a parcel tax measure, resulting in the loss of a revenue stream generating about $7 million annually. To improve the district’s financial footing, officials identified about $8.5 million in budget cuts.
Trustees agreed it is necessary to go back out to voters in pursuit of another tax measure, suggesting the initiative may be again floated in the spring. In preparation for that effort, incoming trustees Shara Watkins and Noelia Corzo agreed teacher advocacy in favor of the tax would be crucial to it passing. Corzo, Watkins and Rebecca Hitchcock were elected Tuesday, Nov. 7, to replace outgoing trustees Ed Coady, Chelsea Bonini and Lory Lorimer Lawson.
MacArthur said educators would consider campaigning for the coming measure, with a guarantee it would directly benefit the classroom.
“If we are going to put our sweat equity into a parcel tax then we want to make darn sure it goes to students and teachers,” she said.
Reaching a contract settlement before the tax is floated to voters would go a long way to encouraging teachers to promote the measure, said MacArthur, adding the union has gone nearly 500 days without a new deal.
District teachers earned an average of $75,328 in the last fiscal year, according to the state Department of Education. Teachers in the neighboring Burlingame Elementary School District earned an average of $74,433, while teachers in the Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District earned an average of $80,855.
The current salaries have resulted in constant teacher turnover, leading to poor student performance on the latest round of standardized tests, MacArthur said.
She maintained optimism though that the nature of contract negotiations may improve in coming weeks once the newly elected trustees join the school board.
“Hopefully this new board will bring about the change we need and the way the district deals with teachers,” she said.
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