Forestville strike 2019

READY TO STRIKE?  — Forestville teachers make their complaints public at an event in Santa Rosa earlier in the year.

Forestville teachers ask parents to attend a strike fundraiser instead of the back-to-school barbecue

Forestville’s teacher negotiations are marching toward their endgame.

On July 25, the Forestville Teachers Association announced a strike against the Forestville Union School District, starting on Aug. 12, the day of the Forestville Back to School BBQ, which teachers say they will not be attending if last-minute negotiations fail to deliver an acceptable contract.

Instead, according to Forestville Teachers Association representative Ryan Strauss, the union is inviting parents to a strike fundraiser the day before.

“We’re having a fundraiser to support the teachers and our strike at the Rio Nido Roadhouse on Aug. 11, the day before we’re scheduled to go back to work,” he said. “It’s from noon to six, and there’s going to be live music, raffles and prizes. We’re asking parents to come to our event on the 11th to meet their teachers rather than the back-to-school barbecue, which is on the 12th.”

Both sides claim that they hope last-minute negotiations over the next 10 days can forestall the strike.

“It’s a very tight window,” said Forestville’s new superintendent Renee Simek, who became the newest member of the district’s negotiating team, when she joined the district this summer.

How did this happen?

The Forestville Union School District and its teachers union, the Forestville Teachers Association, have been in negotiations for two years.

Unable to come to an agreement themselves, they declared an impasse in January and availed themselves of the help offered by the state’s Public Employees Relations Board: going first through mediation, then through fact-finding, in which a three-person panel listens to arguments from each side and makes a non-binding recommendation.

The neutral fact-finding report for Forestville, released on July 10, came down primarily on the side of the teachers union, finding that the district had the financial wherewithal to afford raises for its teachers. 

It recommended the following raise schedule:

• An off-schedule one-time payment of 4% of salary for

2018-19

• A 5% increase to the salary schedule for 2019-20

• A 4.5% increase to the salary schedule for 2020-21

This recommendation was a far cry from the parties’ original positions, wherein the teachers demanded a 33% salary increase and the district offered a 0% raise over three years. Those positions, however, have shifted over the months, whittled down and beefed up by mediation.

In the aftermath of fact finding, the Forestville School Board authorized the district’s negotiating team to offer what the fact-finder had recommended.

It was a remarkable capitulation, but it wasn’t enough for the Forestville Teachers Association (FTA).

According to the district’s attorney Paul Nicholas Boylan, “The district formally offered the Fact-finding Report’s recommendations for (1) a 4% one-time off-schedule bonus for the 2018-19 school year; (2) a 10% salary increase on the salary schedule spread out over the next two years; and (3) a contract term of three years.”

The Teacher’s Association rejected this offer. Instead, the union countered with a two-year contract offer, demanding 5% on-schedule salary increases each year.

The district is hoping to land a three-year contract, which, according to Simek and Boylan, will give both teachers and the district some recovery time before negotiations begin anew for the next contract.

According to Strauss, the FTA’s problem with the district’s current offer is the 4% off-schedule bonus for 2018-19.

“We want the 2018-19 bonus to be an on-schedule salary increase,” Strauss said, noting that on-schedule increases become a part of the teachers’ pay schedule, meaning they compound over the years.

“The whole idea is we need to be closer to state teacher average pay, and if they give us an off-schedule raise it doesn’t do anything to mitigate that. It’s just a one-time payment of 4%, and the average teacher would end up getting maybe $1,000 after taxes.”

The two parties’ reactions to recent negotiations couldn’t be more different.

Boylan, who’d originally been disappointed by the fact-finder’s recommendations, seemed optimistic.

“When the two sides meet again to negotiate, I am optimistic that a settlement will be reached. I cannot imagine a strike happening when the parties are this close to agreement,” he wrote in an email last week.

The union didn’t see it that way. Ryan Strauss accused the district of refusing to negotiate and of giving them a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

A press release sent out by California Teachers Association rep Erik Olson, who has been advising the FTA, called the recent negotiations “disrespectful” and a waste of teachers’ time.

New superintendent walks a fine line

As Forestville’s new superintendent, Simek is in an unenviable position.

“Not having a contract for two years and being in the midst of really difficult negotiations has broken a lot of trust on both sides,” she said. “Upsetting isn’t a deep enough word. Overwhelming and frustrating to everyone involved in the process is more like it. My challenge is how do I come in new and be as up to speed as possible and find a way to make things work and bridge these gaps that are so wide and with people that are so upset and tired and frustrated by the whole process.”

Despite the difficulty, she remains hopeful.

“I think everyone was in a similar place going into Thursday, thinking we could find some common ground, and I think in some ways we are moving closer than they had been prior,” she said.

“I’m working hard to try and work with the board and the negotiating team to get another meeting together as soon as humanly possible so that we can discuss the current proposal and what both sides really want; there’s a couple of options to discuss in that.”

Asked if she thought the board would accede to the union’s demands for a retroactive on-schedule salary raise, she said, “Nothing is off the table at this point, to be honest. I think they’re reconsidering that. That is definitely a sticking point. I have thought at length about what are our real options and can we make something on-schedule happen and what would that have to look like?”

“That’s what I’m thinking about at 4 a.m.” she said.

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