After 4-day walkout, Forestville teachers agree to 3-year contract

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Forestville teachers will be back in class Friday, working under a new three-year contract reached Thursday night following a four-day strike.

The deal was a victory for the 16 teachers at Forestville School & Academy who staged the walkout that culminated with support from many families who kept their children home on the first day of school Thursday to support the faculty.

A post on the school’s Facebook page from Superintendent Renee Semik confirmed the deal.

The Forestville Unified School District agreed to the deal after only about 140 of 310 students enrolled at the Forestville academy attended first day of classes. Some parents joined teachers on the picket line, union officials said.

“I think they severely underestimated our connection with the community,” sixth-grade teacher Ryan Strauss, lead negotiator, said Thursday after negotiators reached an accord that teachers are expected to ratify.

Except for a one-day walkout by Petaluma teachers in 2017, the Forestville strike was the first one in Sonoma County since 1980 and came amid triple-digit temperatures around the region.

Teachers persisted during almost two years of bargaining, bolstered by what they said was strong community support and determination to secure livable wages plus the respect of district administrators and board members.

Earlier this week, the two sides already had agreed to the parameters of a three-year contract that would include 5% pay raises the first two years and increased health care contributions. When they met Monday, union leaders wanted a 3% wage hike in the third year, but district officials were offering 2.5%, a difference of about $6,000. During a meeting Thursday, union leaders finally got that slightly higher pay increase and the new pact they wanted.

Erik Olson Fernandez, a staffer with the California Teachers Association and part of the Forestville bargaining committee, said school board member Josh Nultemeier quickly accepted the union’s last offer, and the deal was done.

“We were fighting to create a district where they actually listen to the teachers — and the parents and the students,” Fernandez said.

Wage studies show Forestville’s kindergarten through eighth grade teachers were paid 33% less than the state average of $80,680 a year, a pay gap former Superintendent Phyllis Parisi last year attributed in part to their recent entry into teaching. Many of the state’s teachers are nearing retirement, she said, and are mostly paid at top scale.

Forestville’s teachers said that was untrue and irrelevant, given the high cost of living in the county.

Strauss said he and his teaching colleagues, who work 183 days a year, make a little more than a half-percent of their annual salary each day. Therefore, they already had given up 2% during the strike this week — more than the extra bump they demanded and received in a pay increase in the third year of the new contract.

“This half a percent represents much more than dollars,” he said.

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