By Will Norton-Mosher
On March 13, more than 50 teachers from the Scotts Valley Unified School District gathered together at the intersection of Erba Lane and Scotts Valley Drive to wave signs coated with pro-worker slogans.
Kathy Weist was at the picket. She has been a teacher in the Scotts Valley District for two decades, has two teenagers, and works two jobs to stay afloat as a teacher. She says that her pay has remained the same while the costs of living in the area have continued to increase.
“We’re living here and we’re not making any more money,” Weist said. “So we’re stuck.”
Currently, there is growing unrest in the Scotts Valley School Unified School District (SVUSD) because of California’s rising housing costs and growing budget deficit. Young teachers continue to leave the district while older teachers remain unhappy with their pay, negotiations have reached a dead-end, and this has caused teachers to picket.
Weist explained that teacher’s pay increases in tiers according to their level of education and how long they have taught. After a certain amount of time teacher pay stops increasing. Weist’s pay has hit this plateau.
Situations like hers have created tension between teachers in Scott’s Valley who want better pay and the SVUSD officials who say that they are struggling to pay them their current salaries.
Scott’s Valley Unified School District operates four schools: two elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school with a student population of 2,800.
The budget of Scotts Valley High (SVHS) is partially established by the number of students that attend: each day a student goes to class they earn the district about $39. But enrollment has been dropping, and SVHS lost 128 students last year alone.
Now to adjust for the attendance, Scott’s Valley High School is earning roughly $4,992 less for the district each day, compared to last year.
In response, the School District began writing bills to the parents of students who did not come to school. The bills, however which were more like requests for cash, did not earn them the money needed to maintain the budget.
Scotts Valley’s low student population does not qualify it for the additional state funds that are made available to schools with large numbers of English learners, low-income families, or schools that are not performing well scholastically. Three years ago SVUSD was in dire fiscal straits. It received a negative financial certification that placed it in danger of being taken over by the state.
Parents have made donations to help keep the district solvent, which have been enough to maintain some high school programs and prevent class sizes from increasing, but have not been able to increase teacher pay to a point where teachers are satisfied.
Teachers pay is increased according to the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) which is determined through negotiations between the teachers’ union and the school board.
District Superintendant Susan Silver explained that the union and the school board must agree on the outcome of these negotiations, but the district board has the final say and must balance the budget well enough so that it will remain balanced for a minimum of three years. Teachers, frustrated that the School board has the final say, have declared impasse in the current negotiations.
Impasse, or a halt in negotiations, can be called by any side at any point during negotiations and a mediator is brought in. Superintendant Silver says that teachers have walked away from the bargaining table.
“We haven’t required a mediator,” Silver said. “We’re willing to talk to them, but they aren’t willing to talk to us. It’s like a marriage, you have to have both sides to make it work.”
Allison Niday, a trustee of the Scott’s Valley School District, explained the bargaining process to City on a Hill (CHP) through E-mail.
“Each year, the bargaining teams (one from the District and one from the Union) each choose three items they would like to negotiate on,” Niday wrote. “Sometimes it is contract language, which defines their role and the structure of their jobs, and [it is] almost always the compensation.”
Three years ago the board and union negotiated a deal that would give teachers an incremental raise over the following three years.
The raise gave teachers a two percent raise the first year, three percent the second, and one percent on the third for a total of six percent over three years. Now an additional 1.46 percent is being debated in addition to the one percent raise teachers already receive.
Niday said that in order to pay the one percent raise the district had to cut $100,000 from the school budget, and if the additional 1.46 percent is added, that cut would rise to $280,000.
John Maglioto, a middle school English teacher, SVEA Negotiations Chair, and parent of two students in the Scotts Valley School system, said that other districts in the county have already settled for higher percentage raises that amount to anything between four and five percent.
He believes the root of Scotts Valley’s educational problems is their lack of such raises.
“The morale of the district has been the lowest it’s been since I’ve been here,” he said. “Right now we lose teachers every year. We’ve lost over fifteen. [since September]”
Maglioto said the high teacher turnover rate is one of the reasons that student enrollment is declining.
“If we continue to lose teachers, we’ll continue to lose students because parents are going to say that they want to go to a school that’s already established,” Maglioto said.
However, Superintendant Silver says that the costs of increasing teacher’s wages would have serious negative effects on student’s education.
“If the raise is approved we would have to make some serious cuts,” Silver said. “If people understood that what the teachers are asking for would have significant negative effects on student education, they would view the situation differently.”
The impact of the pay is that new teachers are avoiding Scotts Valley. None of the staff that were hired when the high school opened eight years ago remain employed there.
According to Gregg Gunkel, the principal of SVHS, last year over 12 teachers left the high school for higher wages.
“Housing is very expensive here,” he said. “And if you can commute 30-40 minutes you can be paid $8,000-10,000 more.”
This teacher unrest lead to the protest on March 13.
Susan Tannehil, a second-grade art teacher who has worked for the district for over a decade, was at the teachers protest.
“It’s not just the lack of money,” Tannehil said. “It’s just that we want to feel that they care about us.”
She said that the school district had turned down their proposed Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) with the reasoning that it would hurt the school’s non-teacher staff.
“They tell us if we get our raise we might lose our librarians, our counselors, and our yard duty,” Tannehil said.
During the protest two teenagers riding bicycles asked Tannehil, over the sound of traffic, if she could push the crosswalk button for them.
“You were my favorite student,” she said to one of them.
Motioning towards him as he crossed the street, she said, “I taught him in the second grade.”