Education

As teachers strike, Sacramento schools superintendent focuses on avoiding ‘nuclear option’

SCUSD superintendent responds to one-day teachers strike

Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar holds a press conference Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Success Academy in Meadowview in response to the one-day teacher strike underway throughout the district.
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Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar holds a press conference Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Success Academy in Meadowview in response to the one-day teacher strike underway throughout the district.

As hundreds of teachers across the Sacramento City Unified School District walked out of schools, district officials stuck to familiar talking points Thursday morning.

District officials agreed that the Sacramento City Teachers Association, which led the one-day strike, and administrators must work together as the district attempts to close a $35 million budget deficit and avoid a so-called “nuclear option” — a state takeover that could result in widespread cuts and school closures.

»»Full coverage: Sacramento City teachers stage one-day strike

“Today we will focus on keeping our schools open, that we provide all the services that our students and their families deserve,” said Superintendent Jorge Aguilar at a press conference at Success Academy in Meadowview.

“But I look forward to tomorrow, to making sure we begin the process of figuring out how we are going to come together, to make sure we put ourselves in the position where we can achieve long term viable fiscal sustainability,” he said.

The strike represents “the complexity of fiscal challenges we are grappling with,” said district’s Board of Education president Jessie Ryan.

“We also recognize that our teachers are the heartbeat of our classrooms and we need them to return to our schools and we’re committed to working with them to find a resolution,” she said.

The teachers union has argued that the district is engaged in unfair labor practices and is not honoring its 2017 contract terms, including funneling savings from a lower-quality health plan strictly toward reducing class sizes and hiring more health workers and counselors.

On Thursday, Aguilar said the district has a “different position” on how to interpret the contract terms, and has argued for savings to be directed towards alleviating the ballooning deficit. An arbitrator ordered by a Sacramento Superior Court judge will make a decision on the contract dispute in two to three weeks, Aguilar said.

“What we ... encourage all our labor partners is that when there is a fundamental disagreement on anything related to contract clauses and such, that we use the formal mechanism in place,” Aguilar said. “We will continue to demonstrate good faith in operating under those formal mechanisms.”

Board of Education member Mai Vang said that the events that have unfolded in the district the last few weeks are an example of “what happens if we don’t harness our energy and direct it to the state level” to demand more funding for public education.

“A disinvestment in public education is putting local communities against each other,” Vang said.

Aguilar said there are currently no future mediation sessions with the teachers union planned. The two groups last met Monday. “We will probably end the day emotionally drained. It’s what we do after today that matters,” Ryan said. “How we work together with a commitment and a laser focus to do everything in our power to avoid a state takeover.”

Around the block from Success Academy, about a two dozen teachers picketed outside Rosa Parks Middle School.

A handful of students were also protesting. They held handmade signs and chanted, “teachers, united, will never be defeated.”

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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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