Apr 30, 2019
By Ryan Strauss, Teacher & FTA Bargaining Co-Chair
Gina Graziano, Teacher & FTA President
On Monday, April 29th Forestville teachers voted unanimously to authorize a strike after a state-mandated impasse mediation on Friday, April 26th failed. The parties are now moving to Fact-Finding, the last step in the legal process before a strike. Ironically, as we approach Teacher Appreciation Week in early May, the Forestville school district seems to have forgotten the value of teachers when it adopts its budget and negotiates with educators. According to the California Department of Education’s 2017-2018 Salary Report based on California districts’ J-90 forms, the statewide average teacher pay was $80,680. At Forestville, the average wage for teachers was $60,632, which is more than 33% below the statewide average despite Sonoma County being recognized as one of the least affordable counties in the state for educators.
As third grade teacher andFTA Bargaining Co-chair Anne Fox said,“You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.” Only Kashia, Horicon, and Guerneville have lower average teacher salaries in the county of 39 school districts listed in the CDE salary report at:
https://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/cs/documents/j90summary1718.pdf (pages 64-66).
Teachers must be a priority in the budget and in negotiations as having financially overwhelmed teachers in our classrooms helps no one, especially our students.
Prior to the impasse mediation, the District proposed a zero percent salary increase to teachers. To add insult to injury, this zero percent proposal was delivered by an outside, contracted attorney (without the superintendent) who has been involved for more than a year in these negotiations. This is significant as there are only 16 teachers and a 1% increase would equate to $10,382 based on 2017-18 numbers from the district.
Sadly, legal fees will only increase now. Yet, the district finished 2017-18 with $1,829,214 (43.63%) in Total Unrestricted Ending Balance Funds (Fund 01) and budgeted even more for 2018-19 at $1,953,362 (47.35%). The required state minimum reserve is 5% and the board has a policy to be at 15%.
The District is violating its own policy by holding on to 43.63% in Total Unrestricted monies. Salaries for the entire teaching staff in 2017-18 only amounted to $1,038,282, about half of what was budgeted in Total Unrestricted Ending Balance (Fund 01) for 2018-19.
In the enclosed charts, you will see that the percentage of the budget going to Certificated Bargaining Unit Salaries has been declining every year for the last five years from 37.66% in 2013-14 to 24.76% in 2017-18. This is despite the fact that Total Revenues have been increasing from $3,773,740 in 2013-14 to $4,672,110 in 2017-18 and Total Unrestricted Ending Balance in Fund 01 has increase from $713,524 (19.47%) in 2013-14 to $1,829,214 (43.63%) in 2017-18.
Another area of concern is the increasing of Services & Other Operating Expenses, which includes attorney’s fees, over the last five years without question from the district. This budget category has increased from 13% ($476,379) of the budget in 2013-14 to 21.63% ($907,075) in 2017-18. This budget category is now close to what is being spent on the entire teaching staff salaries ($1,038,282 or 24.76%).
Teachers are clearly not a priority when you look at the Unaudited Actual financial report filed by the district with the state and the county office of education in September 2018.
After the impasse mediation, the District continued to disrespect and devalue the teachers by sending a last, best, and final offer that includes no on-schedule increases for this year despite the year being almost over. The District’s latest proposal closes the contract until 2021 on health benefits when the District’s contribution is significantly below the statewide average. The proposal would also require teachers to work two more days in the next two years in order to get a raise that is below this year’s Consumer Price Index for the Bay Area of 4.5%.
Paradoxically, on Feb. 13, 2019, the West County Transportation Agency board, which is made up of superintendents from Sonoma County school districts and includes the Forestville superintendent Phyllis Parisi, voted unanimously to approve a “Rate Increase on Agency Services for Fiscal Year 19-20” of 4.5% based on the Consumer Price Index for the Bay Area.
It is within this contradictory context, that teachers in Forestville have reached their limit this year and are demanding to be respected, recognized and protected in the District’s budget and in negotiations. Kindergarten teacher and FTA bargaining team member Talia Kilburn has already publicly stated what will happen if the district does not respect, recognize, and respond to the teachers cost of living crisis by saying, “If our negotiations don’t work out, then we strike.”
Several other Sonoma County school districts, likeHarmony, Two Rock, Twin Hills, West Sonoma County, andWright have already declared impasse in negotiations while many others continue to organize to reach an agreement. Additionally, on May 1st,International Workers Day and a week beforeCalifornia’s Day of the Teacher, theCTA/NEA Sonoma County Educators Council has planned a countywide teacher action along with allies of the May 1st Coalition. It will be at theOld Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa from 4-6pm.
They will be demanding that they be respected in the budget and in negotiations so we can retain and recruit the best educators for our students.
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