Santa Rosa school district calls for more state funding amid teacher strike discussion
The relationship between Santa Rosa school district officials and teachers union leaders has eroded to an acrimonious level amid tense teacher pay negotiations and accusations from the union that the district retaliated against educators for speaking critically against new district policies.
District officials this week vehemently denied the union’s accusations. Nevertheless, union leaders have organized a meeting for later this month to discuss a potential strike.
“The tone and the mood is not good right now,” said Will Lyon, president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.
Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest district with about 16,000 students, began negotiations with the union in November over parts of the contract, including teacher salaries. In December, union leaders say, tensions mounted after a high school counselor was given a notice of unprofessional conduct, which could lead to termination, after asking questions about, among other things, a new controversial policy that requires students to take college preparatory classes to graduate.
While teachers have complained they have inadequate health care benefits and teacher pay — the district’s average teacher salary of $72,738 is below the state average — union leaders say the notice to the counselor has exacerbated tensions. Board meetings over the last few months have had a steady stream of students and educators publicly commenting on behalf of the counselor.
Union leaders want the notice rescinded, Lyon said. The district declined to comment or confirm the situation, citing confidentiality rules on personnel issues.
District officials, however, say union leaders are spreading misleading information to stir emotions that could fuel a possible strike. Superintendent Diann Kitamura in an interview this week said contrary to the union’s narrative, she believes in being collaborative and leading from the middle of an organization.
She denied the union’s allegations of retaliatory conduct.
“You’re talking to a child of a parent who went to the internment camps, so, sorry, not in my lifetime will there be any issue of shutting people down from saying what they believe, whether they disagree with me or the district’s policy or not,” Kitamura said.
Union leaders last month made fliers that included contact information and photos of Kitamura and Jenni Klose, the school board president, and claimed administrators were silencing educators who advocate for students.
In response, Klose sent a Feb. 6 email to union leaders, saying the flier was an inflammatory and defamatory personal attack.
“I expressly deny any specific retaliatory conduct, and also want to make it clear that I would consider any actions in retaliation for the exercise of free speech or for advocating for students to be repugnant and absolutely unacceptable,” wrote Klose, a practicing attorney.
Asked whether the he considered the fliers bullying, Lyon said, “The (union) member who’s under threat of being fired is being bullied. An injury to one is an injury to all.”
All the while, teacher pay negotiations have continued for over four months.
On Feb. 4, the union filed a request for impasse to the Public Employment Relations Board, a state agency that enforces collective bargaining laws. The agency determined there was still room for negotiations and denied impasse four days later, said Felix De La Torre, the board’s general counsel.