Sacramento City Unified reaches deal with teachers on pay hikes, class sizes

Sacramento City Unified and its teachers association have ended a long stretch of discord by tentatively agreeing to two years of pay hikes and smaller class sizes for the youngest students at high-poverty schools.

The tentative agreement, which must be ratified by the Sacramento City Teachers Association and approved this fall by district trustees, calls for a 2 percent salary boost retroactive to July 1 for about 2,000 teachers plus counselors, school nurses and other certificated employees. Another 1 percent increase is slated for next July 1. Since 2008-09, pay hikes have been limited to pay-scale or step advancements.

Over the next two years, the maximum student-teacher ratio will be lowered to 29-to-1 for kindergarten and 28-to-1 for grades 1-3. The district will focus first on about three dozen elementary schools where 75 percent or more students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, the federal poverty threshold. Other schools will have class sizes lowered in the second year as funding allows, Superintendent José Banda said.

Even before the negotiations were finalized, the district began implementing the smaller classes for the youngest students at the affected schools, said district spokesman Gabe Ross. In the first few weeks of school, the arrangement of teachers and students into optimal class sizes typically remains fluid, he said. But he said the district does not expect to do significant teacher hiring to achieve the desired ratios.

The pact also calls for collaboration between teachers and the district on developing teacher evaluation tools, the district said, addressing a pivotal conflict between teachers and former Superintendent Jonathan Raymond, who resigned last October.

“I’m very happy that SCTA was willing to come back to the table and come up with something I feel not only supports teachers but supports the administration to move forward and continue to put focus on kids,” Banda said.

The tentative pact marks a sharp departure from the contentious relationship between the administration and teachers that grew for much of the four years Raymond led the district.

The relationship was fractured by multiple differences, including Raymond’s “Priority Schools” plan, which allowed principals to replace teachers at struggling campuses with no regard for tenure, and his push to link student test scores to teacher evaluations. Those changes came as the state slashed education funding, forcing the district to reduce teachers and programs.

Banda has vowed repeatedly to repair relations with teachers. He has, on occasion, referred to them as “partners.” Unlike Raymond, he has the benefit of arriving this summer just as the state has begun to spend billions of dollars more on education and directed a higher share to low-income districts like Sacramento City Unified.

Teachers association President Nikki Milevsky said the agreement “marks a good step in moving forward with the district. We have a lot of committees we’re going to be working on together.”

In her statement released with Friday’s announcement, Milevsky said hundreds of teachers received pink slips during the recession. Teachers agreed to furlough days, cost increases to health benefits and payroll deductions to support class-size reduction and other needs.