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Hundreds of teachers in Rohnert Park, Cotati and Windsor are poised to see pay raises this year.

The Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District and the Windsor Unified School District have reached tentative agreements with their teachers that would boost educators’ pay.

About 300 teachers in Cotati-Rohnert Park will vote this week on a tentative agreement to raise their pay by 5 percent, starting in July. It should bring some much-needed relief for teachers who have not seen a salary increase since the economic downturn, said Maha Gregoretti, president of the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association.

“After not having a raise since 2008, people will be happy,” she said.

Teacher pay became a hot issue last fall in the school board race, where four candidates vied for three seats. Many teachers have had to take on side jobs, such as tutoring, waitressing at restaurants and working at the local Wal-Mart after their salaries were trimmed more than 5 percent between 2011 and 2014, Gregoretti said.

“Teachers have really weathered a lot of storms,” she said.

Facing declining enrollment, long-term financial woes and a possible takeover by the state, the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District cut employee salaries in 2011 to balance the budget. It called in a mediator that spring to intervene in negotiations with the teachers union, which was asking for cuts to expire after the 2012-13 school year. The district wanted them to be permanent.

The district and teachers struck a deal in 2011 with the assistance of the California Public Employment Relations Board, cutting pay temporarily for teachers by about 5 percent through a combination of salary reductions and lost pay from six furlough days.

Despite the cuts, the vast majority of teachers voted in favor of the 2011 deal, said Lanny Lowery, bargaining chair for the union and an English teacher at Rancho Cotate High School.

As part of the 2011 agreement, teacher salaries were restored last year to 2008 levels, Superintendent Robert Haley said. Furloughs also were lifted.

Lowery said the district made a proposal on Friday to increase teacher pay by 5 percent. He said negotiations were the smoothest he’s ever seen at the district.

“They have taken a big leap to come right out with the 5 percent,” he added. “We didn’t have to fight for it.”

The starting salary for a fully credentialed beginning teacher currently is about $40,000. The teacher will see an additional $2,000 a year under the new agreement, which also will slightly increase a stipend given to educators who provide support to new teachers.

“We want to have very competitive salaries,” Haley said, adding that the raises will cost the district about $1.5 million.

Haley said the district has seen student enrollment numbers increase, which helps bring more money in to the district. About 5,900 students currently are enrolled at its 11 schools. The district expects to have at least 6,000 next year, he added.

“Our teachers are doing a great job. Our community thinks our teachers are doing a great job. We should recognize that,” Haley added.

The agreement also calls for increasing instruction time in middle schools, Gregoretti said. While that will extend students’ school days, teachers still should have seven-hour work days, she said. The new schedule has not been determined, said Gregoretti, a math and science teacher at Technology Middle School.

“Hopefully by adding more time, they’ll be able to have a better foundation” for high school, she added.

Terry Elverum, a representative with the California Federation of Teachers, called the agreement a significant move in the right direction.

“The economy is improving. Schools are getting more money. They’re under a new funding formula,” he said.

The federation doesn’t represent the teachers union in Rohnert Park and Cotati; however, it does in Petaluma. He said the union there has a mediation scheduled for Friday.

Meanwhile, the Windsor Unified School District reached an agreement last month, pending school board approval, over a raise and other benefits with its teachers union, the Windsor District Educators Association. It has been negotiating with the union since last October .

Under the agreement, teachers would receive a 3 percent salary increase and two professional development days for the next school year. Health benefits would be restructured to offer teachers a tier of offerings, from a basic health plan completely paid for by the district, to a more comprehensive plan for which the district will pay 80 percent of the costs.

Superintendent Steve Jorgensen said the plan would raise teachers’ pay while adopting a tiered health care system that would save money for the district, which faces projected deficit spending of $800,000 by the 2016-17 school year.

In Santa Rosa, the teachers union reached an impasse in contract negotiations with the district, forcing a state mediator to step in.

Staff Writer Jamie Hansen contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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