Hundreds of teachers from the San Ramon Valley Education Association donned their red union colors and gathered at Dougherty Valley High School gymnasium Friday afternoon to show support for their collective bargaining team and rally support for the union.
At the rally, held during a student off-day for staff professional development, SRVEA members expressed their frustration over a perceived lack of flexibility from district management, particularly over issues key to the union such as salaries, staffing and class sizes.
“You are riding on the crest of a red wave for our students because we too have been silenced at the bargaining table, and you voted in solidarity to stand strong with SRVEA and to stand up for the education our students deserve,” SRVEA president Ann Katzburg said to the audience, who were gathered indoors because of the rain.
“When we attempt year after year to bring forward proposals for our students only to be told ‘our proposal will break the district,’ I ask myself, what will it take?” Katzburg added.
Labor negotiations between the union and school district have stalled recently, with SRVEA declaring an impasse earlier this month due to a lack of progress.
The largest union in the district, SRVEA also represents district counselors, nurses, psychologists, librarians and speech pathologists.
SRVEA officials have stated that while the district is offering an ongoing 3% salary increase, they have not been as receptive to the union’s desire for smaller class sizes, more nurses, teacher-librarians, counselors and mental health supports, in addition to the cost of living increase.
“We put on the table year in, year out ... that we need more elementary prep, that we need better classroom ratios, that we need more librarians and nurses. And year in and year out, they draw that line in the sand and they make us decide ‘would you rather be compensated so that you can live in this district … or would you rather support your students,’” said Rob Gendron, SRVEA bargaining chair and Dougherty Valley High teacher. “And that is what they do every year. They force us in that position and I think it is time for us to take a stand. I think it's time for us to draw the line.”
While the district has increased their 2018-19 offer to a 3% ongoing salary increase -- increasing their original offer by 1% -- district officials say the reality is that financial challenges restrict what they can offer.
“The district is committed to continuing to invest as much as possible in our workforce while remaining fiscally prudent,” Superintendent Rick Schmitt said in a statement. “The increase, if accepted by our employee groups, will maintain SRVUSD’s position as one of the top-paying school districts in the region, based on total employee compensation, which includes salary and district-paid, full-family health benefits.”
Schmitt added that the 1% increase equates to an additional $2.2 million in annual expenditures.
While speakers at the noon rally Friday seemed to be preparing their fellow members for the possibility of a future strike, spokespeople from both SRVEA and SRVUSD have said they do not want a strike to occur that would disrupt the classroom.
“If you have been watching education headlines in the news, you are probably aware that SRVUSD is not alone this year in reaching impasse with its teachers’ union,” Schmitt said, referencing the LA teachers union strike, which resulted in an agreement that has put great strain on the LAUSD’s finances.
“We believe we can and should do better in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. The SRVUSD values the tremendous contributions of all its employees and is committed to investing in its workforce to the extent that it can responsibly afford to do so,” he added.
SRVEA spokespeople said they hope to reach an agreement with the district, but a strike is not out of the question.
“I don’t want to strike but I will,” said Lydia Scheneider, a local teacher who went on strike in 1990. “No one wants to strike, but when there's a culture that prohibits true partnership, where our voices are not (heard) we have no other option.”
Negotiations are not over as a mediation session is scheduled for union negotiators and district management on Feb. 21, according to SRVEA representatives.