The Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District held their regular board meeting in the Theater, Arts, and Gymnasium building at Rancho Cotate High School on November 16. The 90-minute meeting had mostly routine reports and actions on the agenda. What wasn’t on the agenda, however, was a discussion on the status of contract negotiations with the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association. That was the big story at this meeting. Between “Public Comments – Items Not on the Agenda” and the Association’s report, one-third of the meeting was consumed with this item.
Negotiations with the teachers’ union and the school district have been going on for months. They failed. Items of dispute included wages, the failure to consider a multi-year contract, or to plan for the teachers by including a budget line item for salary increases in the annual budget. Because of the impasse, last month the two sides went to mediation. That failed also. The union polled their membership and over 90 percent authorized a strike if an agreement is not reached. The next step in the process is a fact-finding hearing.
Over three dozen union members, their family, friends, and supporters attended the meeting again wearing red to show solidarity. RPCEA lead negotiator Jim Gregoretti led off the public comments and used his time to explain the symbolism and history of wearing red. Other speakers followed with their stories, frustrations, and anger. Stories were about their inability to live in the community where they teach, having to rely on parents or friends to meet housing or living expenses, or expressing what a day in their life in the classroom looks like. Frustrations included that they felt disrespected by the district’s contract offers, that once again they are being pushed aside and not heard.
The anger was expressed in various ways. Attacks on Superintendent Mayra Perez and even the board itself, although they praised Trustee Michelle Wing. One said that in a period of teacher shortages that “you can not afford to lose us, and we cannot afford to stay!” Another said that “I expect a salary that allows me to live in this community.” Yet a third brought up that they’re told they’re important to the success of the district but that “your words now ring hollow.” Even a student, a senior at Rancho Cotate High School spoke. They said, “I’ve been listening to these board meetings for months” and they feared that the teachers that helped them so much would not be there to help those that follow them.
The strike threats were not direct, but clearly implied. One speaker said they are tired of having to fight.” That they are “not asking for anything unreasonable.” Then followed it with we are “ready to show how tired we are of fighting.” The Association’s Report sole focus was on the failed negotiations and mediation. Denise Tranfaglia, the union’s executive board president, delivered that report. She said she had lost hope and implored the board to sit down with them and listen to them. To hopefully exercise leadership and scour the budget to find the money to meet their needs. She also hopes they’ll attend the fact-finding hearing. While the union and their supporters can present their side in public comments, the district and board are constrained from responding to public comments by the Brown Act.
In other board news, Principal Maya Russellnava at Evergreen Elementary presented a 15-minute overview of Restorative Practices in use at her school. She discussed what it is, why it’s used, and how it works at Evergreen. It started as a pilot program in the 2017-2018 school year and has been ongoing since. She reported we’ve “really seen good behavior based on this approach.” The board also ratified a temporary raise in substitute teacher salary. There is also a shortage of substitutes. According to Perez, last year they raised the salary from $130 a day to $150. They are now raising the daily rate to $200 hoping to attract more substitutes to the district. They also approved the board’s “Governance Handbook” which they’ve been working on for the last couple of months.
During closing reports by the trustees and superintendent, Mindy McKeon was thanked for her many years of service to the district. McKeon is retiring and this was her last meeting. She was the Executive Assistant in the Superintendent’s Office. In addition to words of praise and congratulations, she received a bouquet of flowers from Perez.