Healdsburg Area Teachers Association Ever Flores speaks at a HATA march for equal pay on Feb. 19.

After further sessions at the negotiating table with the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association (HATA), Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said the district has put forth a 10.8% offer, a change from their initial offer in January of a 4.5% salary increase.

“It is a 10.8% offer in one year and it is $2,500 in every cell of the salary schedule, 6% on salary on top of that and then a 12% increased contribution to benefits. It totals about 10.8% total compensation for the one year on salary and benefits,” Vanden Heuvel explained at a March 11 HUSD board meeting.

The offer was presented outside of mediation last Monday, March 2.

Despite the increased offer, HATA conducted a strike vote among its members after the district made the offer.

In a March 6 press release, HATA announced that 98% of HATA members voted to authorize a strike in the event, “An agreement that will provide student resources and help HUSD recruit and retain quality teachers is not reached.”

“This 90% ‘yes’ strike vote shows members are ready to stand up for our students and to achieve a fair settlement,” HATA President Ever Flores said in a statement. “While we all remain hopeful that we can avoid a strike and our team remains ready and eager to reach a fair, student-centered settlement, it’s going to take a real change in direction by management to help make an agreement happen.” 

Flores explained at the board meeting that teachers and HATA members are disappointed that the district was working on a one-year deal.

“The first year deal is great, and that is what I told my members … But what we are arguing right now is that we have had in the past, if you look at historical data, that once we get a comparable raise that is above a 5% the following year we get either a zero, one or two and we are trying to get our teachers to the state level (and) with a one year deal, that is not going to get us there.” 

“I want you to be cognisant that if we go back to the table that this may lead — because we already took a strike vote — to an impasse and subsequently a strike. I want to be transparent,” Flores cautioned. “I do not want to hide anything from you, the district, our parents, our teachers, our community … Hopefully we won’t have to get there.”

In the first round of negotiations, HATA had requested a compensation increase of approximately 34% over a three-year period.

During the board meeting Flores and Vanden Heuvel discussed the contract reopeners, which is when collective bargaining reopens for the new agreement years.

“The association submitted to the district for two years and the district actually reopened the three-year contract because the contract will expire in 2021 and the whole contract is on the table for negotiations, so we see a long list of items that we’ve reopened. We are reopening for the years 2021 to 2024,” Vanden Heuvel explained.

During the most recent HUSD school board meeting on March 11, district trusteesasked why it is a reopener for three years and Vanden Heuvel said there was a desire at the negotiating table to be able to negotiate for future years and not just 2021. He said it was a request that was brought forward. 

Flores said he thinks they are almost at a resolution.

Elementary counseling

HATA is also asking for more counseling at the elementary level.

“We have heard that there is an uptick in behavioral issues, this is something the union went (asked) for the last two years and this is why we believe we need counseling services at the elementary level,” Flores said.

During the non-agenda public comment portion of the March 11 meeting, several parents spoke candidly about student behavior concerns in the K-5 level.

“I am here to talk about the deep concerns I have about discipline and classroom behavior policy,” said Rose McAllister, the current president of the charter governing council and a parent of two Fitch Mountain Charter fourth graders and a Healdsburg Elementary School kindergartener. “In the past two years I have personally observed classroom behavior from our students that is consistently disruptive to learning. I believe that these problems are not limited to one classroom, one grade level, or one student, they are widespread and dysfunctional, cutting into student learning and creating profound stress for students and teachers alike.”

Vanden Heuvel acknowledged that HATA is asking for a certificated counselor and said that the district does have a plan to bring in an MFT (marriage and family therapist) and MSW (someone with a master’s degree in social work) intern to do counseling at the schools.

Vanden Heuvel said he believes the district and HATA are close to coming to a resolution. He added that in the future the district and HATA could potentially come up with a pay formula that dictates salary increase.

Vanden Heuvel said part of the district’s current offer will incorporate language that could allow the district and HATA to come to an agreement on a formula that would give a fair share, automatically based on revenue raise, every year to teachers.

He said that this formula method is the system that the St. Helena school district uses. 

Trustee Jami Kiff pointed out that the district’s current offer would make HUSD teachers the highest paid teachers in Sonoma County.

“We are not at the state average yet,” Vanden Heuvel said. “We would be the highest paying district in Sonoma County and I am hopeful that we are reaching some understanding and that we are able to close this soon and get together and create a formula that can lead us well past the state average.”

According to the California Department of Education, the state average salary for teachers in 2017-18 was $80,680.

The average teacher pay in the county in 2017-18, according to a California Department of Education report based on figures from 32 of Sonoma County’s 40 school districts, was $68,998. 

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