Unions fight for better schools and fair pay

By Sheri Williams

With Sacramento Unified School District running out of money, teachers and other union members are fighting to protect their schools.

Members of the Sacramento City Teachers Association are in the process of taking a strike authorization vote to protest what they say is financial mismanagement by the district. The union represents about 2,800 teachers across the district.

“They made promises to students and teachers that included lowering class sizes and adding services to students,” SCTA President David Fisher told KCRA. “They need to live up to the commitments they made to students and teachers.”

SCUSD is facing a $35 million budget deficit and will run out of money in November under its current budget plan. A state audit has ordered the district to make cuts or face a state takeover. The district voted last week to begin the layoff process for 120 teachers. SCTA leaders said the district could make cuts to administrative costs and other areas – rather than sacrificing teachers.

Last month, California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty called for a “deep dive” state audit of the Sacramento City Unified School District.

“Two rejected budgets and serious concerns about fiscal mismanagement merit a forensic audit,” Fisher told media. “We hope that school board members and other elected officials will join us in supporting more sunlight rather than circle the wagons.”

An initial audit conducted by the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistant Team blasted the district for its fiscal mismanagement, citing “leadership issues” among a handful of factors that make fiscal insolvency likely.

The audit McCarty is calling for is, as he put it, more “akin to a forensic audit,” which generally means that it not only identifies what went wrong, but who is responsible for it.

In a February 5, 2019, letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, the SCTA requested that “the California Department of Education (CDE) conduct an investigation into potential misallocation of district resources and the potential conflict of interest conduct of Superintendent Jorge Aguilar, as well as initiate a comprehensive audit” of the District.

Four other unions with employees in Sacramento schools are also concerned about the budget issues, and are working with the district on solutions. They include UPE, SEIU 1021, Teamsters and Teamster Classified Supervisors.

SEIU president Richard Owens told media he would like to find a solution that prevents a state takeover.

“Receivership is not a good option. It will take 10 years to get out of it and repay the money with interest,” Owens told media. “Poor labor management is going to cause people to flee the district. I’m not optimistic. I’m hopeful.”

The problems in Sacramento are also taking place across the state.

Oakland teachers went on strike in February to protest problems in that district, including poor pay, the growth of charter schools and the proposed closure of 24 public schools.

Nurses and other unions hit the picket lines with them in support, as they have done across California and the nation.

Los Angeles teachers also have been on strike this year. Less than a month into 2019, the teachers of Los Angeles have proven that last year’s wave of collective action isn’t quieting down. After taking to the streets in a strike that has captured the country’s imagination, members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) are returning to classrooms after overwhelmingly approving a paradigm-shifting contract that delivers on key demands.

For six days, more than 30,000 UTLA teachers went on strike to shine a light on the daily realities of a neglected and underfunded public school system. They demanded better, and by standing together, they won it.

Here are just a few critical improvements in UTLA’s new contract:

  • A much-deserved 6 percent pay raise with no contingencies
  • A nurse in every school five days a week
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week
  • Hard caps on class size that will go into effect immediately in 2019–2020, with additional improvements every year after
  • A commitment to reduce testing by 50 percent
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads
  • A clear pathway to cap charter schools

“For too long teachers have lived with a hard truth to tell — that for years our students were being starved of the resources they need,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl following the vote. “Our expectations were fundamentally raised by this strike. Together, we said we deserve better, our students deserve better. We must keep our expectations high and not let go of this moment, because the next struggle is right around the corner.”