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Tentative deal reached to end Cotati-Rohnert Park teacher strike

What’s at the heart of the Cotati-Rohnert Park labor dispute?

Teachers went on strike March 10 over a wage dispute. The district and union are bargaining to reach a three-year agreement.

The Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association has demanded an ongoing 6% increase for this year, 5% next year and 3.6% the next year, totaling 14.6%. The opening request in June 2021 was 19% over three years.

An independent, state-appointed fact-finder published a March 3 report that backed the latest pay hikes sought by teachers. The fact-finder reached his recommendation after considering information about the negotiations from both parties.

But the school district said it could not afford a 6% ongoing wage increase in the first year. The fact-finder’s report did not take into account the costs of providing the raises teachers want to both of the other district unions and administrators, officials have said. With all those employees in mind, the district will reach a deficit by the end of next year, according to budget projections.

Union representatives for Cotati-Rohnert Park teachers and district officials reached a tentative deal late Thursday to settle an entrenched pay dispute and end a strike that had reached its sixth day.

Teachers planned to return to campuses Friday for the final school day before spring break for the district’s nearly 6,000 students.

The deal negotiators agreed to needs to be ratified by a vote of the 320 members of the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association, which includes school counselors and nurses.

“I think we’re all just in a little bit of shock right now,” said Lisa Bauman, first vice president of the teacher union. “We had the luck of the Irish with us today!”

The tentative agreement offers teachers a three-year deal with a staggered ongoing pay raise of 6% for this year, 5% next year and 3.6% in 2023-2024. Teachers will also receive a $2,000 off-schedule bonus this year and a $1,000 bonus in the following year.

The union and district had been at odds over a first-year pay raise sought by teachers in a three-year deal under negotiation since last summer. The parties reached impasse last fall.

The strike began March 10 and represented the largest labor action by Sonoma County teachers in at least five years.

Thousands of students stayed home, some out of solidarity with the teachers, and representatives from other labor unions joined educators on the picket line.

The teachers made their public case by showing the average wage for California teachers outpaced theirs. In Cotati-Rohnert Park, the average teacher pay was $68,438 in 2021; in California it was $84,531 in 2020.

The teachers’ push for a 6% first-year pay hike was bolstered by a state-appointed fact-finder in March. District officials, though, said they couldn’t afford that bump to teachers and other employees without the district facing a deficit in the near future.

After several bargaining sessions this week, the district and the union were able to find common ground by staggering raises in the first two years.

The first 3% raise would be applied retroactively from July through December 2021, with an additional 3% wage increase for January through June 2022. In 2022-2023, a 3% ongoing bump will be applied from July through December, with another 2% in January through June.

That saves the district some money, “a small savings,” said Superintendent Mayra Perez.

“Now we can look at the budget and see where we need to shore up and tighten up,” she said. Union officials have been calling for such action throughout the past few weeks.

Frustration and exhaustion had been mounting throughout the week as the strike wore on. Teachers and community members had demonstrated at the Rohnert Park Expressway overpass of Highway 101 again Thursday, decked out in green for St. Patrick’s Day.

But hours later, everything had changed.

“This is definitely an important moment in the history of education in Sonoma County,” said Denise Tranfaglia, president of the union.

District officials also were jubilant.

“I’m feeling elated,” said Perez. “Our kids, our staff, we’re all coming back, and it feels really good.”

All schools except for Technology High School will still be on a minimum day Friday, as they have been for all six days of the strike. Perez said the parties reached an agreement too late in the evening to revert back to normal schedules.

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

Kaylee Tornay

Education, The Press Democrat

Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.  

What’s at the heart of the Cotati-Rohnert Park labor dispute?

Teachers went on strike March 10 over a wage dispute. The district and union are bargaining to reach a three-year agreement.

The Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association has demanded an ongoing 6% increase for this year, 5% next year and 3.6% the next year, totaling 14.6%. The opening request in June 2021 was 19% over three years.

An independent, state-appointed fact-finder published a March 3 report that backed the latest pay hikes sought by teachers. The fact-finder reached his recommendation after considering information about the negotiations from both parties.

But the school district said it could not afford a 6% ongoing wage increase in the first year. The fact-finder’s report did not take into account the costs of providing the raises teachers want to both of the other district unions and administrators, officials have said. With all those employees in mind, the district will reach a deficit by the end of next year, according to budget projections.

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