Sacramento teachers union asks state schools chief to help prevent strike, district takeover

The Sacramento City Unified teachers union announced Friday that it called on California’s schools superintendent to set up a committee to help avert its second planned strike – and a possible government takeover of the school district.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association already staged a walkout in April over allegations the district is not honoring its 2017 agreement. Meanwhile, the district is scrambling to identify $35 million in cuts by next month to avoid being taken over by the state.

The teachers union sent a letter to state Superintendent Tony Thurmond on Friday requesting a “Budget Management Committee,” saying they believe they have a better opportunity to address their issues under his leadership.

The district requested the committee be chaired by the chief of the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, the state-created financial adviser for schools, who has audited the district in recent months.

Mike Fine, FCMAT CEO, said he accepted the offer yesterday – with some reluctance.

“It’s not a traditional role for us,” he said. “However, we also want to ensure the parties have this conversation. We think it’s way overdue, so if there is a role that we play to make that happen, then we will do it.”

Teachers want the committee to include representatives from their union, the district and the Sacramento County Office of Education.

The union also suggested: the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna, and union leaders Yvonne Walker, of Service Employees International Union Local 1000, and Fabrizio Sasso, of the Sacramento Central Labor Council.

Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar signaled willingness to participate. “We are committed to reaching a solution with all labor partners that will bring a permanent solution to our structural budget deficit and save our schools from a state takeover,” Aguilar said in a statement Friday to The Sacramento Bee.

The union did not request participation on the committee by any parent or community groups, saying it could not identify a democratic process to choose one representative. SCTA President David Fisher said he hopes the district could include a school board member who is also a parent in the district. Aguilar said the district would reach out to include parents.

“The district will also seek engagement in this process from additional stakeholders including parents and community partners because maintaining the quality of education for our students should be the North Star that guides our decision-making,” he said.

In the news release, Serna said, “I welcome the opportunity to work with a broad spectrum of interests all with the same goal of achieving labor peace, a balanced budget, and most importantly avoiding state takeover.”

Serna and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who brokered the current labor agreement between the district and the teachers union in 2017, wrote an op-ed in The Sacramento Bee in March in which they offered to facilitate negotiations. The union did not ask Thurmond to include Steinberg on the committee.

But it did signal it would be willing to renegotiate its contract if necessary to balance the budget and prevent state intervention.

“We are confident that in this setting we can find a viable solution to the Sac City budget crisis that allows for the full implementation of our current collective bargaining agreement, provided that consideration of all reasonable solutions is part of the discussion,” the letter states. “If all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted, then SCTA would consider reopening our contract to avoid state takeover.”

The teachers union said it hopes the committee would help resolve the budget crisis before the district and FCMAT identify the size of a potential emergency loan needed by the district. Such a bailout request signaling insolvency would trigger a state takeover.

The district’s third interim budget report will be given at next school board meeting, May 16, where the district will provide the latest information on the budget deficit status.

The union’s request to Thurmond comes a day after the Sacramento City Unified school board approved 102 layoffs, including 77 teachers.

The teachers union plans a second one-day strike May 22, calling on the district to honor its 2017 contract, including directing any health-plan savings strictly toward reducing class sizes and funding more health workers and counselors.

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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.