A pay disparity is at the heart of the Sacramento teacher’s strike. Can the district change?

One of the bedrocks of the looming teacher’s strike in the Sacramento City Unified School District lies in a desire to pay early and mid-career educators more competitively.

Younger teachers are known to be a flight risk. In the last five years, data shows nearly two out of every 10 teachers in Sac City left the district for a job elsewhere – the second-most common reason after retirement.

That’s because some Sac City teachers can be paid thousands more in nearby districts, a Sacramento Bee review of salary schedules shows. Before the state’s 13th-largest school district descended into a budget crisis with a looming one-day strike, the pay disparity was a point on which the teacher’s union and administrators could agree.

The district and the Sacramento City Teacher’s Association settled on a contract in late 2017 that would alter the salary schedule, creating one more opportunity for younger teachers to move up the compensation ladder faster.

Only implementing that plan proved too costly for the district – and that’s where one of the disagreements contributing to the Thursday strike began.

Teachers in California are compensated based on a mix of skill and tenure. They can earn more with every year of service and as they get extra training. In Sacramento City, it takes about 26 years to reach the top of the pay scale.

The review focused on three common points among the larger districts in the region. Sac City’s salaries are at or near the bottom of them all.

Close to half of the teachers in the district earned less than the average pay of $73,236 last school year. What’s more, the district had five times more non-credentialed teachers on staff last school year than five years ago.

Data also shows that while the district has been successful at recruiting new teachers to the profession, it retained the fewest teachers between the fifth and eighth years on the job.

District officials are aware of the gap in experience but have been in stalled negotiations with the union for months. The salary schedule issue was also the subject of a lawsuit filed by Sac City administrators, but a judge sent both sides back to arbitration, where its fate remains.

“The most significant “investment” the district can make is to honor its agreement and demonstrate that it actually values educators and puts students first,” SCTA officials said in a prepared statement. “It’s increasingly harder to attract high-quality educators with the district’s leadership issues and poor fiscal management.”

In the district’s eyes, however, altering the salary schedule has been overshadowed by the need to trim health care costs – the other major disagreement.

“What we do know right now is that Sac City Unified is overpaying for employee health insurance,” Alex Barrios, a district spokesman, said in an email.

“We need to come to an agreement with SCTA that overpaying for health insurance plans needs to end. We know that we can save up to $16 million per year by simply shopping for more affordable health plans that offer the same or comparable benefits to the plans we offer now.”

Follow more of our reporting on Sacramento City Unified in Crisis

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