SAN LORENZO, Calif. — Teachers and staff at San Lorenzo Unified School District held a rally earlier this week demanding better pay and working conditions. Days after the rally, both the district and unions say the negotiations are inching toward an acceptable settlement point.
Karen Rosa, president of the San Lorenzo Education Association, confirmed that progress has been made, saying, “We added another session on Wednesday night and there was more movement from the district, so that’s progress.”
The San Lorenzo Education Association, California School Employees Association and Service Employees International Union have been calling for a pay increase of 20% in order to be competitive with neighboring districts, although they have recently dropped their demand to 17%. Negotiations began in September, with the district initially offering an 8% increase. It is now offering 14% and a 1% increase in payments for benefits.
Rosa expressed her disappointment at the time it has taken to reach this point, saying, “It behooves all parties to have gotten a settlement sooner.”
Dozens of people, including union members, parents and students, rallied in support of the teachers and staff in front of the district office on Tuesday afternoon, holding signs and chanting slogans calling for a “commonsense contract” that will help attract and retain educators and staff after years of neglecting employees’ pay. Janell Hampton, staff labor representative from the California School Employees Association, said all three units are facing the same oppressive conditions, fostered by years of low-balling during negotiations and years without meaningful raises. Meanwhile, the district has been carrying over a sizable budget surplus for years.
“It’s unprecedented that we all come together at this time,” Hampton said. “And today we have community members with us.”
Scott Faust, spokesperson for San Lorenzo Unified, said the district is focused on trying to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Dipping into the district’s reserves is not off the table and the parties are considering a two-year agreement that would lay the groundwork for future negotiations.
“It’s a balancing act,” Faust said. “The board is going to make sure that they maintain the needed reserve for the district’s stability, but under the circumstances, I think everybody recognizes that the competitiveness of our pay is especially important right now.”
According to data compiled by the San Lorenzo Education Association, teacher pay has increased 16% at San Lorenzo Unified in the past decade while inflation during the same period was 34.6%. Neighboring school districts, such as Hayward Unified and San Leandro Unified, saw teacher pay increases as high as 41%. The uncompetitive wages have made it difficult for the district to attract and retain essential employees, resulting in one of the highest vacancy rates in the county and the use of substitute teachers and contractors to fill the gaps.
For the Service Employees International Union, which represents blue-collar workers at the district, the bus driver shortage is a huge issue. The district went from having six bus drivers to one driver, one substitute driver, and one dispatcher who can also drive if needed, Rosa said. It has created a situation where some of the most disadvantaged elementary school students are guaranteed to go without a bus ride one to two days a week.
The California School Employees Association, which represents paraeducators and clerical positions, is urging the district to end its reliance on contractors who do not have proper training to do the work of paraeducators.
“At least a third of our paraeducators, a third of that work is being contracted out, which is unlawful,” Hampton said.
Faust agreed that competitive pay is essential given the cost of living in the area but said that it is not the only reason for the vacancies. Districts across the country are facing challenges when it comes to hiring teachers and staff, he said.
“Coming out of the pandemic, there’s been a shift in the number of people going into these fields,” Faust said, “so when the pool is smaller, it’s tough.”