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October 28, 2021
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Call to action at school board meeting

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
September 24, 2021

The Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District (CRPUSD) conducted their monthly board meeting at the Theater, Arts and Gymnasium (TAG) building located at Rancho Cotate High School on the evening of September 21. The meeting lasted over three hours. Returning from a closed session, they were greeted by a sea of red in the audience. Over four dozen members of the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association (RPCEA), their families, and supporters were there to advocate for cost of living and salary increases for teachers. 

RPCEA is one of three bargaining units within the district. They represent over 300 teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses, as well as speech and language therapists employed by the district. They’re currently in contract negotiations with the district. The previous contract has expired, and a new agreement has not yet been reached. The next negotiating session is scheduled for October.

The union issued this call to action, requesting their members attend and tell their personal stories. Jim Gregoretti, the chair of the bargaining committee, said “Red for Ed” was their slogan. He said they were there to make their case directly to the Board of Trustees, advocating for teacher wages. During public comments, many did so. Some passionately, some humorously, some with tears in their eyes while others had anger in their voices. One speaker asked the board the question “How can teachers afford to live anywhere in our community on current salaries?” Answering her own question, she said “the simple answer is we can’t.” Highlighting the average cost of rent, she explained that many teachers had to take on a part time additional job or rely on family to make ends meet. 

Other speakers said they wanted the district to put a “line item in the budget” so that the district could “plan for us.” Saying “we are the most valuable resource in this district,” another said “we don’t want to be last.” Then challenged the board, “what are you going to do about it.” One speaker said this district is 12 percent lower than the state average salary. Other nearby districts are managing to obtain higher raises, cost of living adjustments, and negotiate multi-year contracts. These themes were reinforced during the regular RPCEA report. After which, having presented their case, they departed the meeting.

On Monday, Technology High School lost one of their students. It was announced in a letter to THS parents. It also got posted on social media. Today, they had a team of counselors and psychologists trained to help students, parents, and school personnel deal with this loss. Tonight, Madalie Deniz, the student board representative for THS, used her report time to share that loss and remember her classmate. She requested the district have those counselors present, not just today, as the school struggles with this loss.

In other board news, Superintendent Mayra Perez was given a 2 percent salary increase for next year by a vote of 3-1 with Trustee Mark Nelson absent. Trustee Michelle Wing voted against, saying it shouldn’t be granted until the contract with RPCEA is finalized. Perez’s annual salary next year will be $234,600. Perez also presented a COVID update. This included the number of cases and tests. She outlined what the district is doing to adhere to guidelines and support school sites. She said, “it is a difficult time,” “this is not easy and it’s complex.” She expects new guidance on November 1.

The board also approved the 2020-21 unaudited actual financial report presented by Chief Business Official John Bartolome. This closes out the books from last school year. During budget work-up for this year, a deficit was projected to be about $600,000. However, due to slight increases in revenues and large decreases in expenditures mostly related to the pandemic, at close out there was a surplus around $764,000. Bartolome also said 87 percent of district costs are for employee salaries and benefits. He also informed the board that enrollment is up, but he needs to validate the numbers before he’s confident exactly how much enrollment increased.

The board approved a memorandum of understanding between the district and two smaller districts:  Forestville Union School District and Dunham School District. This allows them to use CRPUSD’s Virtual Academy for Independent Study as needed for 2021-2022. Students from other neighboring districts will still have to apply for an inter-district transfer. A total of 14 students from other districts are currently attending the Virtual Academy. Finally, the board approved a resolution recognizing September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.