Teachers increase pressure on district over pay dispute

Union and district at impasse in contract talks


Izel Garcia/Bear Witness

First-year teacher Stefanie Menera holds a banner in protest as teachers seek attention to the stalled negotiation process with the district Oct. 7. Teachers say they received $5,000 less this year, and are asking for a 4% raise.

SaiSahasra Makamchenna, Staff Writer

In recent weeks, teachers in the district have started a public campaign to bring awareness to their stalled contract negotiations with the district. They have placed posters inside their cars reading, “Ask me about my CUHSD teacher pay cut.” They’ve also worn pins with the same message.

They’ve been wearing red on Thursdays, and last week, began picketing outside the school board meetings.

If state-mediated talks, which started Wednedsay, don’t settle the impasse, teachers may adopt a “work-to-rule,” measure, which means they only work for the hours they teach.

The pay cut they are referring to was a one-time bonus of $5,000 that was spread over the 2020-2021 school year. The extra $400-$500 a month went away this year until a contract is negotiated. 

The district disputes the union’s claims that it’s a pay cut, saying that they were part of a contract CHSTA had the district had agreed upon two years ago.

“That’s not a pay cut; a pay cut is when your salary is reduced, which we don’t do on our own since that is a negotiated process,” said Meredyth Hudson, the Chief of Strategy and Human Capital of the Campbell District. 

Another $4,000 salary increase this year has not been implemented because the district and the union have not reached an agreement.

Fighting for cost of living increase

The disagreement over the difference in pay between this year and last year is keenly felt by teachers. 

On their social media pages, the Campbell High School Teachers Association shared testimonials from teachers who were affected by the cut in pay, from teachers being able to afford daycare for their two children, to others trying to pay off their student loans without overdrawing their bank account.

Special education teacher Nick Cortez, who leads the union in negotiations, wants to buy a home in the district, but is finding himself priced out. The median cost of a home in Branham’s ZIP code, 95118, is around $1.5 million.

“That’s hard to apply for loans, when you get a pay cut,” Cortez said, “It really looks bad to the loan officer.”

CHSTA wants to make the increase permanent, along with a 4% increase for all teachers. The district has proposed to put back the $5,000 on the salary schedule, bringing teachers back to last year’s salary. They also plan to add a $500 payment with a one-time retention stipend. 

However, the two parties cannot agree on the rate increase.

The union said that without a pay increase of 4% or more, teachers’ earning power will diminish against the cost of living increases, which have increased anywhere between 9% and 13% for those living in the Bay Area since the contract was approved in 2019. 

District reserves a source of contention

To pay for this, the union has often referred to the district’s projected $31 million in reserves, which is money saved for large purchases and unexpected expenses that a district encounters. The reserves represent 25% of their general fund expenses, and is expected to grow to $48 million this year.

In the Campbell Union High School District, the policy on reserves is 6%, double the legal requirement of 3%, though the Government Finance Officers Associations recommends 17% in reserves.

For CHSTA, the large reserves is unacceptable, and should be used toward making teacher salaries more competitive with higher-paying surrounding districts. 

“I have to wonder how much money the district needs in its reserves before it is willing to fairly compensate educators?” asks CHSTA president Kim McCarthy, who teaches history at Prospect. “$75 million? $100 million?” 

District says pay increases too expensive

The district has said that such an increase, about $8,750 per teacher, would mean it would spend $10 million more money than it takes in, which school board president Kalen Gallagher said in an open letter Wednesday would mean job losses and student service cuts.

At the Sept. 16 school board meeting, John Gray of the School Services of California, an independent group the district brought on to analyze the district’s budget, noted that salaries and employee benefits made up more than 90% of the district’s expenses.

Compared to districts based on average daily attendance of 3,000 to 22,000 students, the group said that the district ranks in the bottom half of general fund revenues, at $14,000, yet spends slightly more than average for its salary expenses.

With health and welfare benefits factors into a teacher’s salary, the report says that teachers are compensated above average compared to districts within a 35 mile radius, and teacher compensation improves the longer they work in the district and earn educational units.

The report cited that district teachers worked 182 days an academic year, which affects their per day rates, compared to nearby school districts.

Gray also referred to the 2008 economic downturn, which forced teachers to take furlough days, which meant days off without pay.

If negotiations fail, ‘work to rule’ planned

McCarthy said that the Collective Bargaining Agreement has provisions in place in case of an economic downturn. 

“Should a financial downturn come, there are avenues to negotiate those impacts,” she said. The union once approved pay cuts across the board during the height of the recession.

Math and engineering teacher Amanda Wilson, who has been part of CHSTA’s negotiations team for the past seven years, said that if state-mediated talks do not pan out, teachers will move to a “work to rule” system to put pressure on the district.

“This means no lesson planning, grading, or letter of recommendation writing would be done after school or on weekends and no tutoring outside tutorial,” she said.

Wilson said that paying teachers competitively will help keep quality teachers in the district.

“The district should make paying teachers at a living wage a priority,” she said. “Branham has lost excellent teachers who moved away due to not making enough to live in the area. They either find a new job in a higher paying school, or move to a place that is cheaper to live.”