At a recent school board meeting, several attendees were disallowed to speak about concerns over a current contract dispute between the Washington Unified School District and the Washington Teachers Association union, according to President of the WTA Don Stauffer.
Stauffer explained that the focus of the dispute is that, despite the district receiving a more than 14 percent increase in funding this year, the teachers are being offered a 2 percent increase, which would set the teachers in this district behind comparable districts in the area in terms of average yearly salary.
“It’s our contention that that raise is too small, given the increase in funding that the schools are getting,” Stauffer said.
While Stauffer couldn’t give an exact amount for the increase the WTA is seeking because of a confidentiality agreement, he stated the union is seeking an increase that is more on the level of surrounding districts.
“Because of the recession, we went a number of years without any salary increase at all,” said Stauffer. “We’ve done well the last couple of years, but the school district has done even better. The context is that if we were the only district around, maybe that would be OK, but what’s happening is that we’re falling behind the pay that’s offered by districts in the neighboring area, including Sacramento County and related areas.”
Stauffer added that good teachers are being lost by WUSD to surrounding districts because of higher pay.
“A lot of teachers have young kids,” said Stauffer. “With the cost of childcare, even if you’ve got a nice place to work, they may be thinking about, “Well, I could use that extra money.’ ”
The district website’s negotiation update FAQ disputes this, stating a statewide teacher shortage and saying, any “open positions are due to a combination of retirements, resignations, and leaves of absence. To date, no resigning teachers have reported that they are leaving due to more competitive compensation packages offered in other districts.”
Administrator of Communication and Community Outreach for the Washington Unified School District Giorgos Kazanis said that because mediation—which began May 20, according to the district website—is currently ongoing, the law, “prohibits both sides from discussing the details of negotiations with any parties outside the negotiating teams.”
Kazanis addressed the concerns of the teacher’s union with a statement.
“The Washington Unified School District is deeply committed to recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce focused on student success,” said the statement. “We believe that our employees deserve the very best compensation for their tireless efforts in the classroom and on our school campuses—it is also our fiduciary responsibility to ensure that we are able to sustain and maintain district-wide programs while providing the financial stability needed to support future pay increases, benefits and pensions for our employees.”
Aside from the salary dispute, class sizes are also a concern for the WTA, but Stauffer said if the salary issue is resolved, the union will quickly wrap up negotiations regarding any other issues.
Whether or not this dispute would lead to a strike is something Stauffer said is always on the table, following a series of other steps that would have to take place beforehand, but that the teachers are mostly interested in coming to an agreement so that they can get back to educating the city’s youth.
“As the representative for teachers in West Sacramento, we just want to get this thing done and move on,” said Stauffer. “If things don’t get resolved, [a strike] is where it could go. Trust me, I do not want to see that. Our primary interest is our students and we’d like to be focusing our attention on our students.”