'Our entire community can breathe easy': Sacramento City Unified, union reach deal
Officials from the Sacramento City Unified School District and its teachers union worked on contract details Tuesday, a day after reaching a deal that averted a strike affecting 43,000 students.
The 2,800 members of the Sacramento City Teachers Association are expected to vote on their new contract by the end of the week, followed by a district school board vote later this month.
The agreement gives teachers as much as an 11 percent raise over three years, including a pay scale boost that helps mid-career employees.
Union leaders said they are still hoping for class size reductions and hiring of additional nurses, psychologists and other support professionals, but those moves are contingent on finding millions of dollars in health care savings without benefit reductions.
The agreement, finalized Monday, ended more than a year of bitter contract negotiations and rhetoric between the district and the teachers union.
“The devil’s in the details,” said John Borsos, SCTA executive director. “You have to make sure everyone is comfortable.”
Borsos said union leaders are meeting with key members, including the bargaining team and work site leaders, and sending out information about the agreement to its membership. “We are updating our members about the agreement and preparing the actual documents to get ready to vote,” he said.
An email to members on Monday highlighted, among other things, an agreement to curtail unnecessary testing, the salary increases and an improved process for hiring and transferring educators.
The union touted plans to lower class sizes and add nurses, librarians, psychologists and other support professionals. However, the deal described Monday by Mayor Darrell Steinberg contained no guarantees or parameters for those changes. Instead, the district and union have agreed to work on saving money on health care costs without reducing benefits.
Borsos pointed to a “back of the envelope” calculation by a local analyst suggesting the district could save between $3.1 million and $11.7 million through a better purchasing strategy or by joining a larger insurance pool. The district previously estimated it would require $27.3 million to fully implement the class-size reduction sought by teachers.
Borsos says the district should see health care savings as early as 2018-19. The district’s June budget had projected that costs would instead rise 6 percent next year.
“We would like to work with SCTA to identify this or another solution to achieve the health savings that we need,” said district spokesman Alex Barrios. “SCTA is our labor partner with our largest members and we invest the most in health care for SCTA members.”
Steinberg also said he would help the district ask voters in 2020 for more money to fund music, arts and sports programs.
Sacramento City Unified teachers are among the lowest salaried in the region, which the union says has hurt recruitment and resulted in “undercredentialed educators” teaching in some classrooms. However, a state-appointed mediator determined that teachers have generous health benefits that make the district’s total compensation competitive with three similar districts in the region. Those include free health care for teachers and their dependents, as well as health coverage for retirees if they work at least 15 years in the district.
The arbitrator suggested that despite the total compensation being competitive, the district might suffer attracting teachers who prefer higher pay over free health care.
“We are really excited about the fact we aren’t going to bleed teachers next year and going forward,” said Cindee Stewart, a physical education teacher who works at Susan B. Anthony and Theodore Judah elementary schools. She said in the past, Sacramento City Unified teachers have felt “like we should get thank you cards from San Juan and Elk Grove because they get our experienced teachers.”