Last week, California celebrated the Day of the Teacher. Locally, we should all ask: “How do Sonoma County school districts actually treat their teachers?” In other words, what are our educators’ actual working conditions, keeping in mind that our educators’ working conditions are the students’ learning conditions. This is especially relevant as we face a pandemic and also celebrate Labor History Month under the California Education Code Section 51009. This law says: “The month of May is hereby deemed to be Labor History Month throughout the public schools, and school districts are encouraged to commemorate this month with appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.”
In response to widespread anecdotal teacher and parent concerns about inadequate educator working conditions and student learning conditions, a countywide coalition of CTA chapter leaders that form the Sonoma County Educator Council (SCEC) have created the attached tool to help us examine this issue. Below are some of the key take-aways from this comparison tool. The goal of the tool is to push local school districts to do more as our educators struggle to make ends meet and students remain consistently short-changed in their education. It is also intended to help educators seek employment in our community school districts that do more to prioritize students and their teachers.
• Every district in the county is below the statewide average pay for teachers of $82,746 despite being in the 5th most expensive cost of living area in the nation for educators. Sonoma County average teacher pay is only $70,461. This makes it very difficult to recruit and retain the best educators for our students in Sonoma County. The statewide average teaching experience is 12 years. Only five districts in the county exceed this 12 year average. Also, many districts in the county have an overrepresentation of first and second year teachers, another sign of problematic turnover rates.
• All but one district in the county is below the statewide average regarding the percentage of the total general fund going to frontline educators that work with students directly.
• A major issue with inadequate pay is the structure of the salary schedules in Sonoma County including:
Too many salary schedule steps and too many duplicate steps where the amounts do not increase. This issue is worsened by the fact that management salary schedules usually have only eight annual steps or less with no duplicate steps or columns that require the administrators to pay for more college credits in order to move to other columns with higher pay. Meanwhile, frontline educators usually have more than 20 annual steps on their salary schedules, many duplicate steps, and columns that force educators to pay for more college credits in order to move to other columns with higher pay.
Initial placement on the salary schedules for incoming teachers is capped by 27 districts in the county. They do not recognize and value years of teaching experience despite research showing that teaching experience is key in raising student achievement. Additionally, widespread capping of years of experience depresses wages further by forcing teachers to stay in their own districts even if they would like to leave because it would result in further cuts to already inadequate pay.
Until very recently, most districts in Sonoma County have not been agreeing to three year agreements that prioritize the teachers in district budgets. Instead, contrary to the law (Educational Employment Relations Act, Section 3543.7), districts are often adopting budgets every June with zero percent wage increases for educators and then tell educators in negotiations months later that they have little or nothing left. In other words, frontline educators in Sonoma County, those closest to our students, are literally being prioritized last in the budget and in negotiations.
Most school board members are not willing to meet with and listen to the elected frontline educators despite the fact that board members are elected to serve the entire community and cannot do their jobs well without knowing what is truly happening in the students’ classrooms. This results in literal “rubber-stamp” school boards that only listen to and respond to often self-serving superintendents and Chief Business Officers, the very people they should be supervising, evaluating and directing. An example of this “rubber-stamp” dynamic is seen in several recent factfinding decisions that have sided much more with CTA’s budget analysis than the districts’. Additionally, it is worth noting that superintendents and CBOs are not experiencing the same cost of living pressures as our educators. Finally, many schools boards across the county have an unfair practice of giving the administrators the same “Me-Too” percentage wage increase that teachers receive even though, for example, teachers at West Sonoma County Union High School district had to strike to achieve that agreement and the superintendent and CBO fought the wage increases the entire time.
• District healthcare contributions for frontline educators are also inadequate and below the statewide average for the majority of districts in the county. This further depresses the total compensation for our educators and denies them and their children, who are often students in the district, a basic human right.
• Ed-Data numbers demonstrate that a majority of districts in the county do not have enough counselors, nurses, psychologists, speech pathologist, etc. for our students. This will be an even bigger problem during and after this crisis and needs to be addressed. According to the Sonoma County Office of Education, there are only 555 counselors, nurses, etc. across the county while at the same time there are 433 administrators.
A sign of these unacceptable conditions has been seen this past year as we had many impasse declarations, several fact finding hearings and two strikes across the county. Ola King-Claye, Chair of the Sonoma County Educators Council, has said, “If districts do not prioritize our educators and students in their budgets, we are determined to take matters into our own hands and rectify this unacceptable situation. Our students and educators deserve better.”