After walking the picket line for seven school days, Yuba City teachers returned to classrooms Monday after union leaders and the district reached a contract agreement.
Teachers approved the new contract by a vote of 506-15.
The Yuba City Unified School District, about 45 miles north of Sacramento, has 13,300 students in 18 schools, including preschool classes. The strike that began Sept. 8 revolved around the teachers’ contention that they are underpaid compared with other California school districts. The teachers union filed an unfair-labor claim over the summer.
During the strike, students stayed home in droves, with district attendance dipping to 42 percent on the second day of the walkout, school officials said.
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Superintendent Nancy Aaberg said late last week that most absences were at the district’s comprehensive high schools, Yuba City and River Valley, where enrollment is normally about 1,750 each. Attendance at those campuses fell to about 30 percent. Elementary campuses had 50 to 80 percent of normal attendance, she said.
One student was so happy to see his teacher Monday that he jumped out of a window to greet her, said Dina Luetgens, president of the Yuba City Teachers Association.
Under the new agreement, Yuba City teachers stand to receive pay raises over three years dating back to last school year, according to the union. They would receive a 2 percent retroactive raise, a 3.4 percent increase this year and a 5.7 percent hike in the middle of 2017-18 if California voters approve a Proposition 55 income tax extension.
If Proposition 55 fails, teachers would receive a 4.1 percent increase, the union said.
The union has contended for weeks that Yuba City teachers were making 13 percent less than the state average. School officials say that a 13 percent raise would have had dire financial consequences for the district.
“Is it everything we wanted? No – but it ends this strike and gets us back into our classrooms so we can be with our students,” Luetgens and YCTA bargaining chairman Steve Jennings said in a statement. “This is the best deal we could negotiate. For now.”
As teachers cast their ballots Monday evening, Jennings said the negotiations had been helped by fiscal analysts hired separately by the union and the school district.
The analysts “were very active in the process,” he said. “They showed the district they could do this financially and end the strike.”
Teachers had mixed reactions to the negotiated settlement. Some felt the new contract fell well short of expectations but that they couldn’t do better under the circumstances.
“I was saddened to see there was very little movement of the district (from) where they started and where this final agreement is,” said Colleen Lawrence, who teaches ninth- and 11th-grade English at Yuba City High School.
Debra Mertes, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher at Tierra Buena School, said the pay increases failed to acknowledge teachers’ worth.
“I think it does not show that our district values us,” Mertes said. “I think it does not show that our district wants to retain us. I think it shows our district knows we love kids, and we want to be back with them in the classroom. And that they’re preying on us again.”
The school district said in a news release that all-day talks helped the two sides come to the tentative agreement that covers three school years starting with 2015-16. The tentative pact must be approved by the school board and the membership of the teachers association.
“We have maintained throughout the process that by working together with YCTA, we could find a way to increase teacher pay while protecting the support systems and student services that distinguish our community’s schools,” stated a news release from the district.