UPDATE (Oct. 15, 7 p.m.): After serving notice this morning that they intended to go on strike Thursday, Wilmar Teachers Association (WTA) emerged from this afternoon’s negotiations session with a tentative agreement in hand! Details of the agreement will be announced following a ratification vote by the members, which is planned for tomorrow.
Wilmar teachers are set to strike this Thursday, October 17, 2019 unless the Wilmar Union School District (WUSD) agrees to a contract prior to this date. WUSD is a one-school (Wilson Elementary) district located four miles west of downtown Petaluma. The strike will occur at the school, located at 3775 Bodega Avenue in Petaluma (94952).
Wilmar Teachers Association (WTA) sent a strike notice to district management this morning offering to meet today and tomorrow to avert the strike. A meeting has now been set for 3 p.m. this afternoon.
Wilmar teachers make almost 25% below the statewide average and WUSD offers one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the county of 39 school districts. Because of a lack of cooperation by district management, the 12 WTA members on Aug. 13 unanimously voted to authorize a strike, if needed. “It looks like it’s needed,” said WTA President Janice Garrigan. “There is no other expenditure more important than investing in a stable and highly qualified team of educators to work directly with our students. Students’ teachers are financially overwhelmed and struggle to afford basic necessities, like rent and healthcare. Wilmar will never be able to retain and recruit the best educators for our students without a long-term written commitment to fix this situation.”
Second grade teacher Tara Geoghegan agreed. “The cost of living in Sonoma County has skyrocketed and our salaries have remained flat, which makes raising a family here very challenging at times. We are working towards owning a home in Petaluma that we can raise our family in, but so far this has not been possible.”
The WUSD management’s continued refusal to bargain in good faith forced negotiations into fact finding, the final step in the negotiations process. The fact finding hearing was held last month and the fact finder’s report agreed that the Wilmar teachers should receive a 5% wage increase for 2019-20 instead of the district’s proposal of 3.5%. Unfortunately, the fact finder did not adequately address healthcare concerns for teachers that have families.
“Because our district contribution to health care coverage is so low, I pay $1,700 out of pocket each month for medical care. While many other teachers are taking risks by getting lower coverage with higher deductibles because of this outlandish cost, I cannot afford to do that because my daughter is a Type 1 Diabetic. It is my hope that the district will increase the medical cap and our salaries because this cost puts a great strain on my family,” said Robin Johnson, a grades 5/6 teacher. Read more comments from Wilmar Teachers HERE)
“We’ve done our homework and WUSD managers can afford our proposal. WUSD can afford to provide teachers a living wage,” Garrigan said. WUSD ended the last year school year with 38.8% ($925,851) in total unrestricted monies and budgeted to end this year with even more – $974,723 (39.19%). Salaries for the entire teaching staff in 2017-18 only amounted to $821,243. Sonoma County is well recognized as one of the least affordable counties in the state and nation for educators.
“Now is the time to make teachers and our classrooms a priority,” Garrigan said, noting that the Sonoma County Office of Education and several Sonoma County districts like Forestville, Gravenstein, Harmony, Oak Grove, Sebastopol, and Twin Hills that have demonstrated that local school districts can actually prioritize the teachers with good multi-year contracts that address this crisis. Wilmar has yet to do so.