As a Sacramento City Unified School District pay dispute continues, teachers flooded the district board room this week to advocate higher wages.
So many teachers turned out for Thursday night’s board meeting that an overflow crowd had to watch proceedings on a television in an adjoining cafe area at the district’s Serna Center.
Teachers said Sacramento City Unified is struggling to recruit and retain top educators because their salaries fall below those offered in comparable school districts. District leaders acknowledge that Sacramento City Unified teachers earn lower pay on average but say their benefits are more generous than those elsewhere.
The Sacramento City Teachers Association is asking for a 5 percent retroactive pay raise for the current school year. The pay discussion was triggered by an increase in state funding that enables the district to provide higher salaries to teachers.
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Superintendent José Banda said last month that the district is willing to pay 5 percent – but only in exchange for limits on post-retirement health benefits for employees hired in the future.
Teachers speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting Thursday told board members they must do better if they expect to keep current teachers and attract new ones. Nikki Milevsky, SCTA president, said 53 percent of district teachers responding to a recent survey said they were considering taking a job in another district.
Other speakers cited the number of teachers in the district nearing retirement and argued that the Sacramento district would have trouble competing for new hires with districts like San Juan and Elk Grove, which offer higher salaries.
The discussion comes as districts across the state are scrambling to hire new teachers to reduce class sizes and restore programs that were cut during the recession. Some districts have gone so far as to offer signing bonuses and subsidized housing in high-cost areas.
Board President Christina Pritchett said that the board has to look at all the demands on its budget. The last thing it wants to do is spend beyond its means and have to lay off employees, she said. She stressed that in considering raises, the district must also make sure it can fulfill its current commitment to lifetime benefits for employees.
There is disagreement over whether increasing pay means the district should reduce the teachers’ health and welfare benefits, which are the most generous in the Sacramento region.
Priya Jaggi, a first-year teacher at The Met Sacramento High School, said she was offered jobs in Folsom and Woodland, at a higher salary. Although she chose the Sacramento district, Jaggi said she has to be able to pay off student debt and meet routine expenses such as car insurance.
“I’m not here to ask you to pay me what I’m worth, because you can’t,” Erin Duarte, a sixth-grade teacher at Pony Express Elementary School, told the board.
But Duarte asked board members to talk with her about the challenges teachers face before they make a decision. She concluded her comments by handing cards to trustees with her phone number and email address.