Ruling favors teachers union in salary dispute with Sacramento City Unified

After weeks of deliberation, a court appointed arbitrator on Thursday ruled in favor of the teachers union in its salary schedule dispute with the Sacramento City Unified School District.

The district and the Sacramento City Teachers Association entered voluntary arbitration in March, after disagreeing over a salary increase for mid-career teachers.

According to the arbitrator’s ruling, the district breached its tentative agreement with the union regarding the salary schedule during the current school year.

“We look forward to working with the District to implement the arbitrator’s award immediately and hope that this decision encourages the District to honor our contract going forward,” read a statement from teachers union President David Fisher.

In a statement to The Sacramento Bee, the district said while it is disappointed with the decision, it will respect the arbitrator’s ruling.

The Sacramento Superior Court arbitration is legally binding and must be implemented immediately, according to court documents.

“The arbitrator’s decision will cost the District more than the 3.5% maximum increase we had agreed to and planned for in our budget,” read the district’s statement. “It will have negative implications on our budget situation and we are now carefully reviewing the details of the decision to assess how much our financial obligation will increase by and the impact of this decision on our current financial challenges.”

The deal was originally brokered in November 2017, by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, district Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and the union. The meeting, held at the mayor’s Greenhaven home, took place as a strike loomed. It provided a 7.5 percent salary increase for teachers with an additional 3.5 percent adjustment to mid-range salaries.

At the time, the decision was praised as a balance between fiscal prudence and paying teachers fairly.

But just weeks after the deal was signed, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David Gordon said that the agreement would drain Sacramento City’s reserves within two years, and the district would have to propose new cuts to avoid being placed on the state’s early financial warning list.

The district now is struggling to resolve a $35 million budget gap and faces a possible state takeover next month.

The district said that under the contract, the increase would cost $7 million. The district claims that as implemented under the SCTA’s proposal, the adjustment would cost $14 million, which the district said it cannot afford.

The SCTA had said it would work with the district to ensure any pay increases do not exceed the agreed-upon levels for the 2018-19 school year.

Meanwhile, the union and district are locked in a larger disagreement over allegations by teachers that the district is not honoring its 2017 agreement, including directing health plan savings to reduce class sizes and fund more health workers and counselors.

The union on Tuesday announced a strike for for May 22, which would be its second one-day walkout.

After the strike announcement, Aguilar asked Fisher to meet, and that discussion took place Wednesday.

“I would characterize the meeting as constructive, although the next steps have not been determined,” Fisher said in an interview Thursday with The Bee.

It is unclear whether the meeting will help avert a strike

“We encourage the District to work with us to implement our contract, obey the law, and join together to fix the Sac City budget to avoid state takeover,” Fisher’s statement read.

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.