Teacher Tensions Rising Over Salaries

A Makeshift Red for Ed Lanyard

A Makeshift “Red for Ed” Lanyard

For several Wednesdays, teachers district wide have been outfitted in red, with the occasional few donning the matching slogan “Red for Ed.” The reason behind this: Teacher Union Contract negotiations. The Valley of The Moon Teachers Association, or VMTA, has been in a deadlock with District negotiators over a demand to increase wages and benefits. The VMTA authorized a districtwide teachers strike if negotiations fall apart. 

Andrew Gibson, Social Sciences Chair and VMTA Secretary, noted the discontent amongst the teaching population. He claims that, “teachers are very fed up. It’s really frustrating.”

The contract issues, which began last fall, have yet to technically reach the negotiating table. Bernadette Weissmann, veteran History teacher and VMTA Bargaining Chair, heads the Union Team tasked with the contract deal. “The District has not met with us since negotiations began,” according to Mrs. Weissmann.

The VMTA notes that while the SVUSD is funded 21% over the state average; however, their teachers are paid 14% less than the state average. “We as a union have let them get away with using the money elsewhere for too long,” Mrs. Weissmann added. “We won’t settle [until we] get to the state average.”

In videos released by the VMTA, union member and SVHS math teacher Alexis Tamony cited the funds as being used to pay “consultants and lawyers,” officially considered “Services and Other Operating Expenses,” with a total of $16 million allocated for it in the past six years. Additionally, the SVUSD has underprojected revenue by $38 million over the same time period, falsely projecting revenue declines since 2010. According to Mrs. Weissmann, 30% of the District’s funds are dedicated to educators’ salaries, while the state average is 37%. The District has repeatedly claimed that funding for teachers’ salaries requests are not viable.

Currently, the District and the VMTA are under the 50-day process of fact finding, a review of both groups’ conduct and policies by an independent party. The process is due to finish in mid-November. Following the public release of the report, the District may choose to bargain directly with VMTA representatives. If the report leads to no conclusive action, then a strike is possible. Mrs. Weissmann explained that, “by the time [VMTA strikes], we will have tried everything else.”

This call for higher wages comes as the District and the nation faces teacher shortages, with many educators at SVHS taking on 1.2 contracts, teaching without a prep period, to cover for additional classes. Both Mrs. Weissmann and Mr. Gibson are currently working 1.2 contracts. As he explained, “because of the stressors that are put on teachers, they are leaving the profession. We are at a crisis level right now in terms of finding people to help fill the positions that we need to help students… What we have to do as a Valley to ensure that our students get the high-quality education that they deserve is… make sure that we have competitive wages that are going to attract new people to come to Sonoma and keep the quality people we already have here.”

Despite their frustrations, teachers have drawn the line at allowing negotiations to interfere with class time. Mr. Gibson noted that teachers want to teach and feel that expressing their disapproval of the District directly to students is “inappropriate.”

VMTA members at SVHS are quick to note that their anger is with the School Board and District rather than schoolside administration. “[The District and School Board] keep playing this little game where they tell the union we have no money to give you a raise, and because we all want to be in the classroom, we say ‘Oh, okay, I guess we’ll take what we can get.’ …I’m to the point now where–it’s like–they’re never going to listen unless we do something.” 

As of the publishing of this article, Superintendent Palazuelos’ Office has not responded to Dragon’s Tale request for comment. 

As the gridlock continues, Mrs. Weissmann reiterated the sentiment that, “the ball is in [the District’s] court.”

“I want to teach here, see my daughter graduate from this school” conveyed Mr. Gibson. “I aspire to be here as long as Mr. Knight. I want to stay here, and that’s what is so heartbreaking about this.”