'Our entire community can breathe easy': Sacramento City Unified, union reach deal
The Sacramento City Unified School District and its teachers union reached an agreement Monday on a new contract that gives teachers up to an 11 percent raise over the three-year deal and averts a strike for the 43,000-student district.
The deal was finalized after being brokered over the weekend by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, school district Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and the Sacramento City Teachers Association. The parties met for hours on both Saturday and Sunday, hammering out the details at the mayor’s Greenhaven home over soda and kettle corn, according to Steinberg.
“This brings relief from some very anxious moments for many, many parents and students,” Aguilar said.
The agreement, announced at City Hall, ended more than a year of bitter contract negotiations and rhetoric between the district and the teachers union. The deal came just two days before the union’s 2,800 members planned to strike.
David Fisher, head of the teachers union, said that as of Saturday morning, “it was a flip of the coin, maybe worse odds” that the teachers would strike. The union had secured portable toilets for picketing teachers at the district’s 77 schools and had put together dozens of boxes with food, drinks and other supplies for those walking the line.
“The mayor bridged the final disagreements,” said school board president Jay Hansen.
Steinberg, who helped broker two contracts between city teachers and the district while serving in the state Assembly more than a decade ago, said the pact is “fair to our hard-working teachers who are the most important adults to ensure student success,” while also safeguarding the district’s “responsibility to be fiscal stewards.”
“Forty-three thousand students, parents, teachers and our entire community can breathe easy this afternoon,” the mayor said.
Parents picking up children Monday from Phoebe A. Hearst Elementary School in East Sacramento were happy.
“It’s a relief for sure,” said Carmen Zorick, who was picking up her daughter. “Working parents with children rely on schools.”
Her two older sons go to O.W. Erlewine Elementary School and have perfect attendance records reaching back four and six years, so she had been torn over whether to keep them home on Wednesday.
“It’s a goal they’ve been trying to work toward,” she said.
As a 22-year teacher in the Natomas Unified School District, Kara Pryor was not going to send her kids to Phoebe A. Hearst on Wednesday.
“I fully support teachers and I understand what they go through every day,” she said. “There’s always a feeling on the part of teachers that they’re being deceived by the money the district has.”
Still, she said she thinks strikes put teachers and parents in an uncomfortable position. Parents have to decide whether to send their kids to school. And new teachers don’t have the same protections as tenured teachers, she said, putting them in a tough spot.
“They could be frowned upon for crossing the picket line,” she said.
Teachers had been seeking an array of changes that included higher pay increases, smaller class sizes, more arts and music teachers and better working conditions.
District leaders had said the requests would cost too much money – $87 million more over three years, compared to the $22 million increase the district wanted to spend. The deal ultimately landed near the $22 million figure, according to district spokesman Alex Barrios, though no documentation was available Monday.
The new deal will give teachers a 2.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2016 and another 2.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1 of this year. A third 2.5 percent raise will come July 1, 2018.
The contract includes another 3.5 percent adjustment to the salary schedule that will take effect in the third year of the contract, starting July 1, 2018. That change is aimed at boosting pay for mid-career teachers, whose compensation has lagged that of peers in three comparable area districts, even when generous health benefits are accounted for.
The new contract achieves the union’s goal of making Sacramento City Unified a place that attracts and retains teachers, said John Borsos, executive director of SCTA. The revised salary schedule will make the district’s wages competitive with Elk Grove and San Juan unified school districts.
“This is us coming together with the district, with the direct involvement of the superintendent, to put the district on a much more viable, progressive path forward for the first time in a long time,” Borsos said. “It will put Sac City on the pathway to becoming a destination district.”
The school district and teachers union have agreed to negotiate together with the district’s health care providers to lower health care costs. If they can find ways to save money, they will try to fund nurses, counselors and mental health workers, as well as reduce class sizes.
However, there are no definitive plans to lower class sizes or add those health professionals at this time. All industries have found it difficult to reduce health costs, but the district may try to find savings by joining a larger insurance pool such as one run by CalPERS, according to a state review.
The deal appears to incorporate recommendations made by a state-appointed arbitrator last week, with the exception of retaining the 2.5 percent retroactive pay increase. The union had sought a minimum 4 percent retroactive raise, while the arbitrator suggested no retro pay but a larger 2018 raise.
The union and district, along with Steinberg, also plan to craft a measure on the 2020 ballot to fund arts, music and sports programs. Steinberg said that the measure would ensure that new funds supplement existing dollars for those programs.
“Let this be the beginning of a new day of partnership that puts old wounds behind,” the mayor said. “Together, let’s make Sacramento City the best school district in the state.”
The contract includes an agreement to reduce the number of tests given and create a “Committee to Make Sac City the Destination District,” which would study ways to improve services and increase enrollment, Borsos said.
Union members must still ratify the contract, Borsos said. That vote is expected in the coming days.
The last Sacramento City Unified strike occurred in September 1989 at the start of the school year. Teachers were out for a week – the longest time in district history. Schools remained open but saw about twice as many student absences as usual.
Sacramento City Unified teacher pay
The agreement between the Sacramento City Unified School District and its teachers union will cost the district $22 million over three years, according to district officials. How the final deal’s pay increases compare to previous proposals:
State arbitrator recommendation
2.5% adjustment in 2018 to improve mid-range salaries
3.5% adjustment in 2018 to improve mid-range salaries
*Retroactive pay **Contingent on state budget
Sources: Sacramento City Unified School District, Sacramento City Teachers Association