Community and parent support, the love of students for their teachers, the power of organizing and unity helped the teachers in the West Sonoma County Union High School District end a three-day strike. The tentative agreement reached will help the 1,861-student district recruit and retain teachers, who have been leaving for better-paying neighboring districts.
The agreement, reached after one year of difficult negotiations, will provide raises of 12 percent over three years if the 110 West Sonoma County Teachers Association (WSCTA) members vote to ratify it. Until then, the strike is suspended so classes are back in session. WSCTA members include various subject area teachers, counselors, special education teachers, speech pathologists and school psychologists.
A ratification vote is scheduled for Wednesday, said WSCTA President Lily Smedshammer, who thanked the community for its strong support for educators during months of contract talks.
“Through the power and strength of organizing, parent support, and our unity, WSCTA reached a tentative agreement with the district that will benefit our students by helping to halt teacher turnover,” she said. “This settlement is a good step in the right direction toward investing in educators and the future of our community.”
The deal includes a 12% hike over three years, with a guaranteed 8% over the first two years and the third year contingent on the passage of a parcel tax. Smedshammer said they intentionally calculated the cost of the 4% increase for 2018-19 at a flat amount, which helps the newer and younger educators currently at the bottom of the pay scale. “We did what we could to help our youngest teachers,” she said. The two sides also agreed to a health care benefit package. They had an agreement in concept around class size issues before the strike.
Months of negotiations were punctuated by rallies and informational picketing held before and after school. Things started looking better, says Smedshammer, when Superintendent Toni Beal signaled her intent of “retaining the seven period day in a good faith effort to grow our district rather than handle budget projection concerns through cuts.” District management had threatened to move from a seven to a six period day as a cost-saving measure. Teachers objected, saying the move would hurt students.
“We made sacrifices during this strike, specifically the sacrifice of leaving our classrooms for three days,” she said. “Having the community stand with us in support has been amazing. As we move forward, we will remain strong in our commitment to our students, our colleagues and our community.”
Still pending are legal actions filed by WSCTA in response to district management behavior. WSCTA filed two Unfair Labor Practice charges during the strike: one for the filing of “frivolous lawsuits” and the other for shutting out WSCTA parents who are on strike as teachers from important communications that dealt with their children. District management quickly withdrew both lawsuits, one which sought to bar special education professionals from striking and the other based on what district management presumed teachers might do during a strike.
WSUHSD is a three-school district and includes the communities of Forestville, Cazadero, Graton, Guerneville, Occidental, Monte Rio, and Sebastopol. The two sides have been negotiating since November 27, 2018 and went to impasse after five sessions over professional wages and health care benefits.