High school teachers in west Sonoma County to strike after talks stall
More than 100 west Sonoma County high school teachers and staff plan to go on strike this week after about a year of negotiations have failed to result in a new contract, leaving the district and its educators far apart on future pay and other terms.
The West Sonoma County Teachers Association, representing 110 teachers and staff at Analy, El Molino and Laguna high schools and a special education consortium, will begin their strike Wednesday morning, said Lily Smedshammer, president of the association.
Their message, she said, is that west county teacher salaries lag behind the state average and other nearby districts, a discrepancy the group sees as risking an exodus of talented educators. They’re asking the West Sonoma County Union High School District for pay increases totaling 12% over three years with no change to the current cap on health benefits, she said.
“We cannot continue to fall behind and become a district where teachers come and go for better opportunities,” said Smedshammer, who teaches Spanish and manages Analy’s English Learner program. “That does not create a high-quality learning environment for our west Sonoma County teenagers.”
The district, which serves about 1,800 students near Sebastopol, west Santa Rosa, Forestville and other parts of west county, proposes increasing salaries roughly 6% over three years. It cannot afford to meet the full request from teachers without significant budget cuts to offset the additional expenses, Superintendent Toni Beal wrote in a letter published on the district’s website. The district’s offer asks the teachers to make concessions on medical benefits by agreeing to a yearly per person spending cap starting in October 2020 of $19,500.
“The current offer from the district is the best offer we can make while continuing to provide quality educational programs and services while maintaining fiscal solvency,” wrote Beal, who could not be reached for comment Monday, which was Veterans Day, a federal holiday.
The west county strike plans follow Forestville teachers’ four-day walkout in August and a one-day strike conducted by Petaluma teachers in 2017, as well as larger strikes this year in Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento, as educators across California have publicly pressed districts to raise their pay during a sustained period of economic growth.
Santa Rosa teachers in March were mulling a strike of their own before reaching a two-year deal with Santa Rosa City Schools. According to the union, several west county “feeder districts” recently secured salary hikes of their own.
The west Sonoma County strike will have no fixed duration and no bargaining sessions are scheduled, Smedshammer said.
School will continue during the strike because the district has hired substitute teachers, and food and transportation services will be provided throughout the strike, according to Beal’s letter.
“We are hopeful that we can come to an agreement with the teachers soon,” Beal wrote.
The strike is set to follow an Oct. 25 third-party report that sided with the union’s call for average salary increases of 4% per year for a three-year contract while leaning toward the district’s position on health care benefits.
That report was submitted by a neutral fact-finder selected by the state Public Employment Relations Board.
The fact-finder worked with both an attorney for the district and a union representative to resolve an impasse stemming from contract negotiations that began late last year.