Forestville teachers say they will strike if there is no agreement during tomorrow’s negotiations sessions with the Forestville Union School District (FUSD) managers. Local teacher unions throughout Sonoma County say they will support Forestville teachers, who plan to go on strike the first day of school, August 12th.
“If our negotiations don’t work out, then we strike,” says kindergarten teacher Talia Kilburn.
FUSD is a rural KT-6, one-school school district serving 263 students in Sonoma County, an area where the cost of living is very high. Negotiations between FUSD managers and the Forestville Teachers Association (FTA) started back in November of 2017 and the current contract expired June 30th.
Last month Forestville’s 16 teachers unanimously voted to go on strike, putting the FUSD managers and school board members on notice that they will no longer tolerate the disrespect shown to teachers at the bargaining table and in person. “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last,” said FTA President Gina Graziano, a music teacher.
“In order to recruit and retain the best educators for our students we need agreements that address teachers’ very real cost-of-living concerns. Teachers are our students’ most important resource. We’ve done our homework and FUSD managers can afford our proposals,” Graziano noted. “We all remain hopeful that we can avoid a strike. I’m pleased to see our new superintendent, Renee Semik, is more willing to accept and discuss the neutral Factfinding Report’s recommendations.”
On July 10th a neutral Fact Finder found that FUSD has the financial ability to pay for the union’s proposals and the FUSD mangers had “severely disinvested in the teachers” for at least the last five years. The Factfinding Report also noted that “the local high cost of living is a serious problem for teachers” and that Forestville teachers’ wages and healthcare do not compare favorably in the county, region or state. The report came short of chastising the FUSD management, saying managers proposals to eliminate the Health and Welfare Retirement benefits and the current complaint procedure are “misguided and not necessary.”
“The bottom line is Forestville teachers are underpaid, especially with the real cost-of-living here in Sonoma County, and FUSD managers can do something about it. At this point, they choose not to,” Graziano said, adding that FUSD mangers are violating district policy by maintaining over $1.8 million, or 43.63%, in unrestricted reserves from last year. The required state minimum reserve is 5%.
The Fact Finder also recommended:
- Three-year contract starting that includes a 4% off schedule payment for 2018-19, a 5% salary increase with one day added to the school year for 2019-20 and a 4.5% salary hike for 2020-21.
- Complaint Procedure should remain in the contract.
- Health and Welfare Retirement Benefits should remain unchanged.
Other Sonoma County teacher unions are facing similar challenges at the bargaining table. Educators in West Sonoma County High School, Harmony and Two Rock districts have taken strike votes and four others, Twin Hills, Wilmar, Bellevue and Cloverdale, are in the mediation or factfinding process.
Sonoma County educators are committing to solidary actions in support of the Forestville teachers, ranging from online support and contacting school board members, to discussing the situation with possible substitutes, attending rallies, and posting “We Support Forestville Teachers” signs in homes and businesses.