Santa Rosa City Schools teachers could see their pay and medical benefits increase starting early next year.
After hours of tough negotiations, they reached a tentative contract agreement with Sonoma County’s largest school district late Thursday afternoon. The deal calls for a 1 percent salary increase starting Jan. 1, followed by a 1.5 percent raise a year later. Under the plan, they’ll also see their health care benefits increase by $2,800 over the next two years, said Jenni Klose, school board president.
“The community, the kids and the teachers need to return to some normality and consistency. Having the contract settled is really huge for everybody,” said Klose, voicing optimism that teachers will approve the tentative agreement.
It’s the second deal to go before the teachers for a vote after they rejected an earlier one in October. That plan called for a total 1.5 percent salary increase over the next two years, plus a one-time 0.5 percent bonus, retroactive to the 2016-17 school year. Teachers also would have received a total of $1,000 toward medical benefits and gotten to keep three days of paid training, but the deal was squashed by a 55-45 percent vote. The main reason it was rejected was compensation, said Will Lyon, president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, which represents nearly 1,000 educators.
Lyon said the new deal will go before teachers for a vote starting Dec. 14.
They’ll have a week to cast ballots, and a simple majority is needed to approve it. If it’s rejected, Lyon said the district could attempt to renegotiate or impose the last offer it made before reaching an impasse last March: a one-day reduction in paid training and no salary or medical benefit increases.
“I don’t think it’ll be unanimous, but I think we can get it over the line,” Lyon said. “It’s a much better deal than the one we turned down. We’re going to strongly encourage our members to vote for it.”
A fact finder assigned by the state Public Employees Relations Board recommended in a report issued last week that the district increase teacher salaries by 2 percent and health care benefits by $2,000, retroactive to last school year.
Santa Rosa City Schools officials argued the cash-strapped district couldn’t afford to adopt the recommendations, especially at a time of budget problems and declining enrollment following October’s wildfires. They said it would have cost the district more than $12 million over the next three years.
The district has already cut $4.5 million from this year’s budget and plans to cut $7 million more over the next two years because of higher retirement contribution costs, lower than expected state funding and errors in past budgets.
Lyon argued that the 18-page fact-finding report validated teachers’ concerns that the district is losing young teachers to neighboring districts offering more competitive salaries and health care benefits, and that the initial tentative agreement, which would have cost the district $5.7 million, didn’t go far enough to resolve the problem.
If approved, Klose said, the new deal will cost the district $6.9 million, considerably less than if it had implemented the fact finder’s suggestions.
“The board is thrilled that our negotiating teams worked together to structure a deal that the district can afford, better compensates our teachers and makes real headway with our health benefits contribution,” she said.