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West Sonoma County teachers strike enters second day

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More than 100 teachers remained on the picket line Thursday, marking the second day of a strike that has emptied classrooms in parts of west Sonoma County as contract talks remained stagnant.

The strike comes after nearly a year of negotiations for a three-year contract for teachers in the West Sonoma County Union High School District, which primarily serves communities in Sebastopol and Forestville and includes Analy, El Molino and Laguna high schools. On Tuesday, the district and the union representing its teachers found some common ground in their negotiations, but ultimately failed to come to an agreement and avert the strike.

Neither the district nor the union had requested another trip to the bargaining table as of Thursday night.

“We would not be surprised if this went at least three days before the district was willing to reach out to us,” said Lily Smedshammer, president of the West Sonoma County Teachers Association.

During Tuesday’s negotiations, the district offered to meet the union’s demands for a 12% raise over three years, but only if it was tied to a new parcel tax the school board wants to place on the 2020 ballot. The district’s offer only guaranteed a pay bump outside of the ballot measure for one of the three years. Union leaders walked away from the offer because they wanted at least two.

“We made it clear to the union that we had come as far as we could,” said Superintendent Toni Beal. “The district is ready and willing to return to the table at any time that the union is willing to do the same.”

Classrooms across the district were mostly empty again Thursday, with at least 85% of students missing class at each campus. Many students have picketed alongside their teachers, said Brian Miller, bargaining chairman for the West Sonoma County Teachers Association. Because district funding is tied to attendance, Beal estimated a loss of about $85,000 for the second day in a row.

Because of the strike, Beal said the district cannot teach the same curriculum students receive in a regular school day. Instead, the roughly 30 substitute teachers hired to hold classes during the strike are providing “project-based lessons” that, while not directly related to students’ usual classes, are intended to provide “educational enrichment.”

Smedshammer said she was not aware of any strikebreakers that have returned to work yet, and Miller said the strike was “definitely” still on for Friday.

“It’s really painful for teachers to make the decision to leave the classroom,” Smedshammer said. “It has to be for a very important cause. This has built over the last few years and reached a breaking point.”

You can reach Staff Writers Chantelle Lee at 707-521-5337 or chantelle.lee@pressdemocrat.com and Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ChantelleHLee and @YousefBaig.

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