Sacramento school board authorizes campus closures and removal of pickets if teachers strike

Sacramento teachers march over contract dispute

Members of the Sacramento City Teachers Association rally in protest over faltering contract negotiations outside a Sacramento City Unified School District board meeting on March 16, 2017.
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Members of the Sacramento City Teachers Association rally in protest over faltering contract negotiations outside a Sacramento City Unified School District board meeting on March 16, 2017.

The rancor between Sacramento City Unified administrators and the teachers union intensified Thursday night as the school board approved an emergency resolution giving Superintendent Jorge Aguilar the power to close schools, remove pickets and pay substitutes up to $500 a day should teachers go on strike.

The resolution takes effect immediately.

The meeting was called on the heels of a strike vote that had a majority of the district’s teachers saying they are willing to walk off the job if their union remains at odds with the district over a new contract.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association has said it could strike as early as Nov. 3. Union officials say they first want to see recommendations from the state Public Employment Relations Board that are expected by then.

Much of the emergency resolution outlines the district’s plan in the event there are not enough teachers to hold classes. But it also warns striking teachers that their pay and benefits, including employer payments to retirement programs, will be docked on the days they are out.

In the event of the strike, the district also would cancel all vacations and professional leaves for employees, unless approved by the superintendent.

The resolution gives administrators the power to “take action” against anyone who blocks access to a campus, disrupts the educational program, trespasses, disturbs the peace or is involved in acts of vandalism and other violations of the law.

The board warned that employees who violate the directives in the resolution may be disciplined or fired, and that district property can be confiscated.

The resolution allows the superintendent to pay up to $500 a day to emergency replacement teachers, substitutes and independent contractors to replace striking workers. It also allows him to retain legal services, security, transportation and whatever additional services may be needed during the walkout.

On Friday, union representatives bristled at the tone of the emergency resolution.

“They should have declared a state of emergency when they couldn’t fill all their teaching positions” at the beginning of the school year, said John Borsos, executive director of SCTA.

Union officials say that the district currently has 100 teaching positions that are being filled by uncredentialed or under-credentialed substitutes.

“We are concerned about the quality of the people who will be hired with the rest of us on strike, including substitutes,” said Nikki Milevsky, SCTA vice president. “I don’t know where the people are supposed to come from.”

SCTA President David Fisher said the union will give the district written notice of its intent to strike “several days” in advance should it ultimately decide to walk out.

Neither he nor Milevsky intend to send their own children to school if a strike is called.

Tensions between the teachers union and the school district have grown over more than a year of contract negotiations, as both sides continued to disagree over compensation. The teachers are working under a contract that expired in December.

The district has agreed to raise teacher pay by 6 percent, including 2.5 percent retroactively for the previous school year, according to district officials. The increase would still leave district teachers at the bottom of pay rates at 23 similar school districts in the state, Fisher said.

The Bee last year found that Sacramento City Unified’s average teacher salary of $67,009 in 2014-15 ranked fourth from the bottom out of 14 comparable districts in the region. It also fell below the statewide average of $73,687. However, teachers in Sacramento City Unified also have some of the region’s best health benefits, and district leaders have said their total compensation remains competitive.

Both the union and the district have made it clear they are willing to play hardball.

In April, members of the teachers’ union held a rally outside district headquarters during a school board meeting over contract negotiations and the recently declared impasse.

In June, the district sent an email to parents blaming the Sacramento City Teachers Association for the lack of a labor contract with teachers after nine months of negotiations.

Last month, the teachers union asked members for a strike authorization before the state Public Employment Relations Board completed its report. The vote, in which 80 percent of the district’s 2,200 teachers and 600 substitutes participated, was completed Wednesday. Of that 80 percent who voted, 97 percent approved the strike, according to a press release from the union.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert