Most schools in west county opened for business this week, but for some schools, the protracted teacher negotiations that made last year so stressful for both teachers and district administrators have dragged on into the new school year.
UPDATE 8/16/19: After Sonoma West went to print, the Forestville School District settled with the Forestville Teachers Association on a three-year contract with 5% in the first year, 5% the second year, and 3% in the third year, thus ending the teachers' 4-day strike.
Forestville teachers hit the picket line early on Monday, Aug. 12, as planned. The district called the Forestville Teachers Association’s bargaining team to an early morning negotiating session starting at 6:30 a.m., which went on for six hours.
During these negotiations, the teachers asked for a three-year contract, with a retroactive 5% on-schedule raise for 2018-19; a 5% on-schedule raise for 2019-20; and a 3% on-schedule raise for 2020-21.
The district agreed to 5% on-schedule raises for the first two years, but asked for a 2.5% raise for the third year.
The district also gave up on three other requests it had made earlier in negotiations: it agreed to leave the topic of health care benefits open to future negotiation and to leave in place, unedited, a teacher complaint form. It also backed off its plan not to offer new hires the option of early-retirement.
And that’s where negotiations stalled — with the two sides half-a-percentage point apart and school starting on Thursday, Aug. 15.
The teachers headed back to the picket line, tense but jubilant in their red t-shirts, and vowed to hold the line until the district agreed to its demands.
“The district can barely afford what is being offered,” said Forestville District board member Josh Nultemeier, who also sits on the district negotiating team. “Our teachers have decided to strike over a 1/2 percent raise given in the third year of a three year contract.”
“We were hopeful that we would be able to settle this matter today,” said District Superintendent Renee Semik.
This is the first teachers strike in Sonoma County in 40 years. The last strike, which lasted 36 days, was in Santa Rosa in 1980. In that strike, 500 teachers hit the picket line. In tiny Forestville, there are 16 teachers, but their numbers are bolstered by supporters from other west county school districts and other teachers associations from Santa Rosa.
Twin Hills settles
Much to the relief of everyone in the Twin Hills School District, the teachers association and the district announced on Thursday, Aug. 8. that they had reached a tentative settlement.
Both sides agreed to a two-year contract, with a 5% retroactive raise on schedule 2018-19 and a 4.5% on schedule raise for 2019-20. This is a tentative agreement that must be approved by the Twin Hills School Board and ratified by the membership of the Twin Hill Teachers Association.
“It’s been a long 10 months,” Twin Hill Teachers Association rep Miriam Silver said. “We’ve had a lot of up and downs, and we’re all grateful to be finished.”
“We got in just under the wire before school starts,” she said. “The kids come on Thursday and to not still be negotiating when that happens is so wonderful. That way, we can focus on what we care about, and that’s the kids.”
Twin Hills settled after the district filed suit against the union for threatening to strike in violation of their existing no-strike contract, according to a recently filed court document.
The high school district moves into fact-finding
The West Sonoma County Union High School District and the West Sonoma County Teachers’ Association (WSCTA) met on Friday, Aug. 9, for their final mediation session. Failing to get the two sides to reach agreement, the mediator recommended the case for fact-finding, in which a panel of three people (one chosen by the district, one chosen by the union and one neutral party) listen to presentations by the union and the district, researches the issues and then pronounces its opinion.
WSCTA officers Lily Smedshammer, Brian Miller and Jo Dempsey were at the last school board meeting in early August. Smedhammer read a statement, noting that the district has traditionally underestimated its year-end reserve, finishing out 2016 with $2.2 million above the reserve amount required by the state; $2.1 million above in 2017, and $1.7 million above in 2018.
“This is not an anomaly,” she said. “Year after year, the budget says there is no money but there is, millions of dollars on top of the reserve, waiting to bring our salary schedules up to competitive in the county. Let’s use the money we have on today’s students.”
The district asserts that these year-end funds are not a reserve but monies pledged for necessary expenses in the next year.
No date has been set yet for fact-finding.