Teachers call on schools to reprioritize budgets
In the midst of a constant stream of car horns and loud chants, Brian Miller explains to anyone willing to listen that it’s time for the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) to stop putting teachers at the bottom of the budget.
“It’s about reprioritizing,” Miller said. “At the last spot is the teacher, and you need to prioritize teachers in your budget.”
It’s not hard for Miller, a mathematics teacher at Analy High School, to see how the numbers are coming up short for west county teachers. Despite Sonoma County being one of the most expensive areas to live, Miller said the average west county teacher salary is 21 percent below state average for high school teachers.
The latest statistics show the average teacher salary in California is $80,680. The average salary for West Sonoma County teachers is $66,669. Secondary or high school teachers are generally paid more than elementary school teachers: the average salary for a high school teacher in California is $87,305, while the average salary for the WSCUHSD is $68,610.
Serving as the chief negotiator for the West County Teachers Association, Miller helped organize an awareness campaign on Feb. 7 drawing more than 100 county teachers and supporters to the intersection of Main Street and Highway 12 in Sebastopol.
Miller said his district school board compares its teacher pay to other districts in the county and for west county teachers, that is not good enough anymore.
“Out of 38 districts in Sonoma County, zero of them are at the state average,” he said. “Why on Earth would we compare ourselves to a district whose teachers can’t afford to live in the county?”
According to a report from School Services of California, Inc. there has been a steady decline in budget spending on school staff in the WSCUHSD. In the 2011-2012 school year, a little more than 82 percent of the budget went to school staff. In 2017-2018, a little under 77 percent of the budget went to school staff.
Jay Goldberg said he retired after 37 years of teaching, but is now back at El Molino High School teaching Physics and doing the job he loves.
Like many educators Goldberg is passionate about teaching but understands the need to make a living.
He said he fears the “extremely conservative” west county districts will not be able to sustain the standard of teaching it holds now.
“We live in a very expensive area,” he said. “We need to retain and attract teachers.” Miller said he and others in the teachers association began planning the rally last month after the district board failed to approve an increase in teacher pay. The teachers will not know for certain if their rally cries made a difference until the next district meeting in early March.
Miller said it’s back to the table for more negotiating if they don’t get an offer that’s better.
“We are hoping to get us closer to the state average,” Miller said.
For West Sonoma County Unified High School District teachers, that means a 13.5 percent raise.
The Feb. 7 awareness campaign marks the first time all West County school districts organized together as a unified group to call attention to wages. Participating teachers and supporters came from West Sonoma County Union High School District, Gravenstein Union, Twin Hills Union, Forestville Union, Oak Grove Union and Sebastopol Union.
Schools represented within the districts include El Molino, Analy and Laguna high schools; Willowside, Twin Hills and Hillcrest middle schools; Apple Blossom, Oak Grove and Gravenstein elementary schools, as well as Orchard View (K-12) and Sunridge (K-8) schools.