In September, West Contra Costa teachers voted 686 to 448 to turn down an agreement that had been reached between the union leadership and the school district.
Teachers in this district are among the lowest paid in the area. A new teacher’s gross salary is less than $40,000 per year. One reason that teachers rejected the contract was the proposal for an average pay raise of 4 percent, with new teachers receiving significantly higher raises than more veteran teachers.
Many considered this divisive
On Wednesday, teachers continued their campaign with a rally at the school board. They have been joined by parents who believe that the low salaries contribute to recruitment and retention problems.
According to Jesus, a teacher who been active in this movement, “I have a feeling that it will have to be a 6 percent increase. or there will be a strike”
Jesus also raises other issues that need to be addressed by the district.
“A majority of our students are Latinos, and we have very, very few Latino teachers,” he said.
Neither the district nor the teachers have focused much on that issue. And class sizes are also a big problem, according to Jesus.
There is no real class size cap on secondary classes, and the cap for elementary – 33 students per class – is very high.
There are many factors affecting the budget of an urban district that enrolls a majority of students who are low-income and many whose first language is not English, according to district spokesperson Marcus Walton.
Long-time observers believe that the take-over of the district by the state has played a major role in the budget and salary issues. In 1991 the State of California took over the district, and essentially forced the district to take a $27 million loan.
The interest rate was 5.7 percent, and therefore the district ended up paying $47 million to the state.
In 2004, teacher Wendy Gonzalez and other supporters held a hunger strike and a march demanding that Sacramento reduce the interest rate, and the rate was reduced.
In 2012, the district finished paying off the debt. As a result of the initial loan teachers were forced to take a 9 percent pay cut, contributing to their continued low wages.
Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD, is the author of “A Different View of Urban Schools” (2012) Peter Lang and host of Education Today KPFA 94.1 FM.