Sac City Educators Overwhelming Approve Unfair Labor Practice Strike
Yesterday evening (March 10) , the Sacramento City Teachers Association representing 2,800 certificated staff along with Service Employees International Union Local 1021 representing 2,100 classified staff announced the results of separate votes by SCTA and SEIU members on whether to authorize a strike. There was an overwhelming consensus among both groups of employees: 97% of classified staff and 95% of certificated educators voted yes, giving the unions’ leaders the green light to call a strike if the Sacramento City Unified School District continues to negotiate in bad faith on key issues related to staffing, the quality of instruction, and health and safety protocols.
Earlier this week, CalOSHA issued a citation against the district for pushing staff who had tested positive for covid or who were experiencing covid symptoms to continue reporting to work, cutting janitorial services when the need for sanitation is greater than ever, and other failures that have resulted in students, staff, and their families being needlessly exposed to Covid.
Since the return to classes from winter break on January 3, on an average day, 3,000 Sac City students have gone without even a substitute teacher. On some school days, the number has spiked to nearly 5,000 students. For example, At John F. Kennedy High School, on multiple occasions, students from as many as 13 different classes have been crowded into a school auditorium due to a lack of substitutes. Perhaps most egregious, district administrators have completely neglected 571 students from across the district who are unable to attend school in-person and have gone without any instruction this school year due to a lack of independent study teachers.
“As educators, we have a moral responsibility to advocate for our students,” said SCTA President David Fisher, a second-grade teacher. “Warehousing kids in cafeterias and auditoriums and doubling and tripling classes is not the way to teach. Rather than work with us to address the staffing crisis and create an environment that would help to recruit and retain educators, Superintendent Jorge Aguilar blames teachers and other frontline staff for administrative failures that leave students and their families abandoned.”
The staffing crisis also extends to other school employees. There are currently hundreds of vacancies among classified staff—which includes positions like school bus drivers, nutrition service workers, clerical staff, and campus monitors–yet instead of trying to fill those positions, district management is pursuing layoffs of classified staff.
“We know who suffers the most from this staffing crisis: our students and their families. When staff and educators are stretched too thin, kids pay the price. Our working conditions are their learning conditions. Sac City students and families deserve better. And they’re not going to get it until the district starts valuing its employees, from bus drivers and nutrition service workers to teachers,” said Karla Faucett, a professional development specialist with 18 years in the district, who serves as the SCUSD chapter president of SEIU Local 1021. “Our members have spoken loud and clear: They are prepared to strike to ensure that all Sac City students receive the education they deserve.”
Last month, transportation workers and other classified staff staged a protest outside Serna Center to call attention to the unsafe working conditions and unsustainable workloads caused by the staffing crisis: Students who had tested positive being put on school buses without notifying the drivers; drivers who tested positive being told to keep working; kids from multiple routes being crammed into buses with no social distancing due to a lack of drivers to cover all the routes. Bus drivers are being lured to neighboring districts with offers of better pay and signing bonuses, while SCUSD offers nothing but cuts to pay and benefits.
Money shouldn’t be an issue. Due to a significant infusion in funds from state and federal sources, this year SCUSD has received a record $20,855 per student. The district also has large cash reserves of $125 million dollars, the highest in SCUSD history.
In his State of the Union address on March 1, President Biden said, “The American Rescue Plan gave schools money to hire teachers and help students make up for lost learning. I urge every parent to make sure your school does just that. They have the money.”
Sacramento is an outlier. Despite the additional funds and skyrocketing inflation, Aguilar has demanded a five-year wage freeze for certificated staff and a $10,000 cut in the average educator’s annual take-home pay of $10,000 through cuts to health benefits targeting SCUSD employees with families.
“We don’t have a money crisis, we have a values crisis,” said Fisher. “We suffer from fiscal mismanagement and district managers with misplaced priorities.”
The proposals on the bargaining table are only the latest in a history of poor management decisions by Aguilar directly tied to the staffing crisis.
Prior to the pandemic, the district sent layoff notices to hundreds of educators, only to rescind the layoffs–but many educators chose not to return. During the early days of the pandemic, Aguilar refused to pay substitutes or to use them to assist with virtual instruction, despite receiving state funds to compensate these school employees. Many of those unpaid substitutes then went to other districts. Making the Sac City staffing crisis worse is a national shortage of certified teachers. It’s predicted that SCUSD will see a wave of teacher resignations and retirements at the end of this school year.
Wednesday, Aguilar sent to district employees and the school community an inflammatory and misleading email that blatantly omitted key facts and made false claims about the status of negotiations and proposed compensation for substitutes and nurses, among other issues. The superintendent failed to mention in his correspondence that SCTA had reached agreements with the district on increased compensation for both nurses and substitutes, but the district has chosen not to institute them. Aguilar’s email would lead one to believe that the independent study failure could be solved with teachers simply volunteering to take on extra work. It can’t. Recently, the district backtracked from its vaccination mandate for students due to its inability to staff independent study. The students who have been waiting since September have already overwhelmed the understaffed program.
“Mr. Aguilar’s correspondences are filled with misinformation and disinformation and are designed to foment tension rather than unite our community in this time of great need,” said Nikki Milevsky, SCTA’s vice president and a school psychologist. “The simple facts are: He created the staffing crisis through his policies. A Band-Aid approach won’t fix it. And bashing Sac City educators won’t attract new teachers to the district or help retain current staff.”