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Sonoma County Gazette
Forestville teachers are joined by California Teachers Association members to protest low teacher salaries

Forestville Teachers Strike as School Opens with Substitutes to start the School Year. 

Aug 13, 2019
by Vesta Copestakes


It's a very sad day in Forestville as teachers parade in front of the school asking for a Living Wage while administrators prepare for opening day with substitutes. This small community school once boasted more than 800 students and is now down to less than 300 from Kindergarten through 8th Grade. Once the recipient of the California Distinguished Schools Award, parents have pulled their children from Forestville School to attend neighboring schools instead.

Both parents and students who love the tradition of multiple generations attending their hometown school are stressed and concerned about the future of their school and the cohesiveness of the student body. Students traditionally grow up with each other from kindergarten through high school, forming friendships that last a lifetime. 

At the center of the debate are wages and benefits that are not sufficient to support teachers living close to the schools where they work. This is a common problem in Sonoma County where many businesses import workers from northern counties where the cost of living is not as high as it is here in Sonoma County.

Teacher salaries have been a hot debate for a long time as student enrollment declined over the years. Without a larger number of students, this school has been forced to budget with less funding. As older teachers retired they have been replaced with young teachers just starting their careers and therefore earning lower salaries.

The school has been holding a substantial surplus of money, above the state requirement, but the school board and administration have not been willing to spend that money on teacher salaries. Serious building maintenance is required within the next few years so most of that money has been set aside to replace the roof, etc. 

But at the heart of the debate is the administration-heavy school where there is 24 support staff for 16 teachers and less than 300 students. Several administrators are making higher salaries than teachers and these educators are objecting to the imbalance. Paying lawyers and consultants instead of paying teachers is adding insult to injury.

Negotiations seem to be making progress until an impasse was met with staunch resistance from both sides of the bargaining table.

In a press release issued August 12th, the district stated, “During negotiations, the District agreed to all of the union’s demands, except one: FTA (Forestville Teachers Association) demanded a 13% salary increase over three years. The District could only offer 12.5% but with improved health benefits.” 

“The District can barely afford what is being offered,” said District Board Member Josh Nultemeier, who also sits on the District negotiating team. “Our teachers have decided to strike over a ½ percent raise given in the third year of a three year contract,” Nultlemeier said.

As the teachers prepare to extend the strike into Day 3 on Wednesday, August 14th, the day before school starts on August 15th, the Forestville Teachers Association stated, “This is yet another attempt by teachers to avert a strike that will impact our students. We want a fair contract that attracts and retains the best teachers for our students,” said FTA Bargaining Co-Chair Ryan Strauss. “This district can afford our proposals.

At the heart of the dispute is not just the .5% difference in proposed salary increases. The teachers are asking for a two-year contract vs. the district's request for a three-year contract. The cost of living in our nation, as well as in Sonoma County, does not remain stable for multiple years. The 2020 elections are likely to have an additional impact on the economy. 

“It’s time for this district to invest public money in students and teachers,” Ryan Strauss. added. “This is about a better future for our schools and our community. Many teachers are leaving for better-paying districts and that has to stop. Our students deserve better.”

First-grade teacher Noelle Huberty agreed. She says she doesn’t want to go on strike, but families and teachers cannot afford to be left behind. “There have been times we have chosen to not go to the doctor to avoid the extra expense. There have been times when we had to go into debt because we couldn’t afford daycare for our kids. There have been times when I have purchased things for my classroom because my students needed it and I have gone without. We are just trying to make it in Sonoma County. I continue to put my students first, but I cannot put myself and my family last.”

The hope at this point is that teachers and the administration/board will sit down to negotiate one more time on the last day before school starts so students can return to an exciting first day of school with teachers they will have throughout the year, not substitutes on their first day of school.

INFO: Forestville School website:
Contact District Superintendent, Renee Semik at 707-887-9768. 

INFO: Forestville Teachers Association:
Contact: Ryan Strauss, FTA Bargaining Co-Chair: 707-481-6690 Gina Graziano, FTA President: 707-540-4285

Aug 14 - 6 to 8pm Parent Q & A at Forestville Youth Park, Mirabel Road, Forestville hosted by Forestville teachers

…education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities…Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make. But the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence.” -International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 13


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