The prospect of Sacramento City Unified teachers going on strike Wednesday has students stressed and parents scurrying to make plans to keep their children home from school.
Teachers are asking for larger pay increases, smaller class sizes and better working conditions, while district officials say the requests would cost far too much money.
The strike could impact 47,000 students at 81 schools, with the possibility that some campuses or classes would close, district officials said. It would be the first city district strike since 1989, when teachers walked out for a week at the start of the school year.
Uncertainty around what type of instruction students would receive, coupled with sympathy for their children’s teachers, has left parents weighing thier options for next week.
“There is no way we are going to cross the picket line,” said Bryna Lovig, mother of a second-grader student at Alice Birney School in South Land Park, which prides itself on offering curriculum inspired by Waldorf “whole child” methods.
“This is not an easy job and they deserve more,” she said. “Our schools deserve more. I think we deserve to have a school nurse on site. All schools deserve to have second languages and art and music, and all the things we know contribute to good citizens and well-rounded people and happy educated students. And that we are not getting. If the money is there, it should go to the children and teachers.”
Lynn Pichinino said her grandchildren, in the fourth and sixth grades, also won’t be going to Alice Birney either if there is a strike.
She said she believes most parents at the school are in support of the teachers, with many attending a rally the union organized Thursday before a district board meeting. The Alice Birney group waved homemade glittery signs made by the teachers on Sunday, said Pichinino, a retired teacher who volunteers and sometimes substitutes at the campus.
“We just expect our school to close down (during the strike),” she said.
During the weeklong strike in 1989, the longest in district history, campuses remained open but saw about twice as many student absences as usual during the walkout.
Lovig, a stay-at-home parent, and other parents at the school are planning to open their homes to children whose parents work. “There has been a lot of conversation going around in our classrooms on how to support our teachers by supporting other parents,” she said.
She plans to continue to provide the service no matter how long the strike goes on.
At Hollywood Park Elementary School, parents Maxine Fang and Courtney Reeder said they had not yet heard about the strike, but both said they probably wouldn’t send their kids to school if one occurs.
“I think it’s really unfortunate,” Fang said. “I think it’s really sad because substitutes are being paid more than regular teachers, so why not use that money for them?”
Reeder said she would take her kindergartner son to work with her or take him to a private preschool, but understands the dilemma the strike may cause for parents who can’t stay home or take their children to work with them.
An offer of $500 has drawn more than 1,000 teachers to the district’s strike substitute pool, according to SCUSD officials. But that isn’t enough to take the place of all the district’s 2,200 teachers, board president Jay Hansen said this week.
Sacramento City Unified spokesman Alex Barrios said the district is still working out details about how it would manage substitutes should a strike occur. If one campus has low attendance, the district may shift substitutes to schools that have more students.
Employees at city-run 4th “R” programs that provide before- and after-school care at a dozen campuses are members of the Local 39 union. But they cannot strike because their contract contains a “no strike, no walkout” clause, according to Laura Trapp, the main Local 39 representative for the city of Sacramento.
That means they are expected to work their normal hours before and after school even in the event of a strike next week. As of Friday, it did not appear that they would provide care beyond their current hours, as some parents have wondered.
Despite child care workers’ contractual obligation to work, members of the Local 39 union “fully support the teachers” and are willing to join striking teachers during non-work hours, Trapp said.
But families that rely on “Children’s Centers” for before- and after-school care at four district campuses may have problems. Child care employees there are represented by the teachers union, according to a Sacramento City Teachers Association document.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said Friday he has offered to help mediate an agreement between teachers and the school district, a role he once played as a state assemblyman.
“The bottom line is that, by definition, there will without any doubt be a contract, and so now is the time to start the agreement, not after a strike that would really be damaging to everyone,” Steinberg said. “But it needs to be a fair contract and we must recognize that the teachers are the most important piece of educating our future. I know enough now to know that this can be resolved.”
Talk of a strike is worrying students as well. Younger children don’t understand the concept of a strike and worry about their teachers not coming to school, while older students are concerned about falling behind in their studies.
“Our kids are upset,” Reeder said. “It’s a scary thing to think about their teachers not coming to school.”
Lovig is reading her second-grade daughter a book to help assuage her fears. “Click, Clack, Moo,” by Doreen Cronin, centers around a group of cows who find a typewriter and begin sending letters to the farmer making demands. When he refuses, they withhold their milk.
Sarah Nguyen, the student member of the Sacramento City Unified board, said Thursday that seniors at West Campus are concerned that a strike would put them at a disadvantage as they apply to universities. She said students were worried they wouldn’t have help filling out applications and couldn’t find teachers to write letters of recommendation.
Billy T. Hernandez, a senior at John F. Kennedy High School, said students will suffer if they miss instructional time and are unprepared for required tests. He also said that students are worried they won’t have enough hours to graduate on time.
“On behalf of 43,024 people, we implore you and the teachers to resolve this issue,” he said.