Half of Sacramento City Unified’s students did not attend classes day of strike

Roughly half of Sacramento City Unified’s students attended classes the day of the district-wide teachers strike on April 11, according to numbers released by the district.

State funding for school districts is based on attendance. The district said it could not yet estimate how much the one-day strike cost.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association held the strike alleging unfair labor practices by the district. The strike took place just as the district makes a final effort to balance its budget by the end of June. If it cannot resolve a $35 million gap, it faces a takeover by the state.

The strike stemmed 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.

About 48 percent of the district’s 42,000 students did not attend classes.

In comparison, 6 percent of Oakland Unified’s 35,000 students showed up to school during their seven-day February. And in January, less than a third of Los Angeles Unified’s students attended classes during their week-long strike.

About 86 percent of the 2,240 SCTA members did not show up to work on April 11, according to the district. In total, 60 percent of the entire Sacramento City Unified staff, which is represented by multiple unions, was absent.

The teachers union said it believed 98 percent of teachers picketed on strike day.

“The numbers clearly show that our students have great needs, and they need our schools to be open during a strike because our schools are more than schools, they are safe havens,” said district spokesman Alex Barrios. “They provide an opportunity to be in a safe environment during the day, have access to a nutritious meal, and offer student support.”

The SCTA said it heard concerns from parents that the district’s online portal, Infinite Campus, showed students marked as present while they were absent on the day of the strike.

“It’s Sac City’s creativity with numbers that have the district on the brink of insolvency,” read a statement from the teachers union.

“Students and parents stood with teachers in overwhelming numbers and have received very credible reports of the district engaging in creative counting to inflate its attendance numbers – and meaningful learning did not occur on April 11th,” its statement read.

The district said it has not received any reports regarding these concerns, and said it took extra time in processing attendance to ensure the numbers were accurate.

More elementary school students were in attendance than high school students, according to the district. Some high school students were grouped together in gymnasiums and auditoriums, where they watched movies throughout the day.

Teachers union Vice President Nikki Milevsky said the district may not have been able to employ the hundreds of replacement teachers needed to provide regular instruction at each school during the strike. It is unclear how many substitutes and replacements the district employed on April 11.

Shortly after the strike and school day ended, school board President Jessie Ryan called for a “cease-fire” – changing course from the district’s original plan to file its own unfair labor practices claim with the state, according to a district statement.

“To avoid state takeover, we hope that the creative counting is over and now that Superintendent Aguilar and Board President Ryan will finally honor our contract so that we can spend tax-payer dollars on students rather than diverting millions to the for-profit healthcare giant HealthNet,” read a statement from the SCTA.

Sacramento City Unified has 75 campuses, all of which remained open on the day of the strike.

“The strike clearly had the most negative impact on students and families with the greatest needs,” said Barrios.

Follow more of our reporting on Sacramento City Unified in Crisis

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.