Education

Families brace for teachers strike at Sacramento City Unified schools on Thursday

With Sacramento teachers set to strike Thursday, Joey Rincon said she will support them: She plans to keep her kids out of school and bring them with her to work, a local diner where she waits tables.

It will be disruptive, Rincon said Tuesday after dropping her children off at David Lubin Elementary School in East Sacramento. But “teachers care for my kids, teachers educate my kids.”

“It’s a huge job and they’re way underpaid,” Rincon said, adding with a laugh that her children “will figure out something to do quietly at the table.”

Families of the 42,000 students in the Sacramento City Unified School District are bracing for a one-day strike announced by the Sacramento City Teachers Association, which alleges the district has engaged in unfair labor practices. It would be the union’s first strike in 30 years.

Sacramento is a city with a long and deep connection to organized labor, and many parents said they plan to keep their children home in a show of solidarity with teachers, who threatened to strike just 18 months ago before a last-minute deal was brokered that included teacher raises. But other parents either don’t have the resources to keep their children home or are worried that missing a school day could hurt their students’ preparation for key exams taken this time of year.

Many families said they also worry about the lack of educators overseeing their children Thursday, and that substitute teachers hired for the day may be unable to control classrooms.

The union expects a majority of its 2,500 teachers to strike Thursday, after 92 percent of union members who voted approved the walkout last month.

“As anyone who has had substitute teachers knows, it causes problems, kids start to act up, the whole class goes into riot mode,” said Denee Damas, who has a daughter in first grade and a son in third grade at Tahoe Park Elementary School.

District spokesman Alex Barrios said schools will be open and classes will be appropriately staffed, though he could not disclose how many substitute teachers would be working Thursday.

Damas said she will probably send her kids to class, reluctantly, because the district will count absences as unexcused, “regardless of how the parents feel about it.”

Some parents say they don’t have the luxury of even considering whether to keep their kids home, like Tosh Fagan, who runs a food truck called Taco Apatzingan 1. “We’re self-employed so we’re very busy,” he said.

He laughed at the idea of hiring a nanny or babysitter for his son, who is a fourth-grader at Bret Harte Elementary School.

“Yeah, that ain’t gonna happen,” he said.

Francessa Ayala said her son’s third-grade teacher at Bret Harte warned parents last week he would be out striking. Ayala’s husband was a union worker, and “he doesn’t believe in crossing that line so my son’s not going to cross that line.”

“We support the teachers,” Ayala said. “Because they’re the ones that are with our kids eight to 10 hours a day so I feel like whatever’s best for them is best for my son.”

Other families were unaware of the strike Thursday, and have little time to prepare alternative care. “I didn’t know about it so I didn’t think about it,” said Rosanna Azua, as she sat in her car waiting for her son, a second-grader at Tahoe Park Elementary.

There’s no way she could keep her son at home. “I have to work,” she said.

The strike stems from allegations by the teachers union that the district is not honoring its 2017 agreement, including directing savings from a lower quality health plan strictly toward reducing class sizes and funding more health workers and counselors.

The district, which is under the threat of state takeover as it attempts to close a $35 million budget gap, did not reconfirm those funding allocations, according to the union.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg — who helped broker the 2017 deal — and district administrators believe the millions in potential health plan savings should go toward alleviating the $35 million deficit before improving student services. A new health plan has not been agreed upon.

“We have been seeking to work with you to honor the agreement as we understand it,” wrote Superintendent Jorge Aguilar to the teachers union earlier this month. A mediation session Monday between district leaders and the union was unsuccessful, officials said.

Lamar Pringle said his two high-school-age daughters are sympathetic to the teachers’ cause. The family recently had a lively debate over the dinner table the merits of going to school vs. staying home in solidarity.

But both of them are in the middle of preparing for Advanced Placement, or AP, testing. Sitting out isn’t really an option, he said, having just dropped off his third daughter for her kindergarten class at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School.

He supports educators, he said, but “as parents, we’re kind of caught in the middle.”

The last teacher strike in the district was Sept. 5, 1989, when more than 1,300 teachers and several hundred other certificated workers walked off their jobs on the first day of school to demand higher wages.

The strikes brought “chaos and confusion to many of the district’s 75 public schools,” according to a Bee article at the time.

Bee reporter Mila Jasper contributed to this report.

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Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
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