More money, better class sizes and more perks highlight new Sonoma Valley teachers contract

The teachers union is set to vote on the contract Friday, before it heads back to the school board for a final vote.|

The mood at the beginning of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 15 was decidedly upbeat as teachers, staff, parents, community residents and board members voiced support of a tentative agreement between the district and Valley of the Moon Teachers Association over salary increases and other issues after several months of negotiations.

It calls for an 8% salary increase for teachers, librarians and secondary and elementary school counselors, retroactive to July 1, 2022, with an additional 6% increase to kick in on July 1, 2023. Members of the VMTA have until Friday, Nov. 18, to cast their vote on the agreement. If approved, it would then need to be ratified by the SVUSD board.

“The biggest fiscal impact of the agreement is, of course, the raises,” said Josh Braff, SVUSD’s chief business official. “The 8% and 6% salary increases are something the district can afford, something that we worked really, really hard to be able to afford. We’re very excited to be able to offer them.”

The amount of salary increases was the main focus — and sticking point — during the negotiations, but the tentative agreement contains several additional provisions, including the following.

• Certified employees will we required to work 186 days per academic year, rather than the current 187 days.

• Employees will receive a $450 stipend for vision care, rather than the current $350 allotment.

• The maximum number of students in elementary school classes will be reduced from seven to five above the class limit for each grade.

• Four steps of salary advancement will be eliminated for salary increases for teachers, librarians, and secondary and elementary school counselors. “So, they will see an increase sooner, rather than having to wait a few years to see that increase,” Braff said.

• Psychologists and speech pathologists may request to work remotely for up to five days per academic year when an immediate family member is ill and they are required to care for them. These employees will still be required to provide uninterrupted services to students. “This will hopefully enable us to attract and retain psychologists and speech pathologists,” Braff said.

• A joint statement on maintaining public safety that applies to all SVUSD campuses was created: “The District and Association agreement that it is in the best interest of all parties to provide safe and secure campuses for students, staff and community. The District and Association are jointly committed to maintaining a safe workplace for students and staff. The District and Association encourage positive communication and discourage actions that impede a positive educational environment.”

• Beginning in the 2022-23 school year, bargaining unit representatives will meet biennially in September to develop and complete calendars by Nov. 1 for two subsequent academic years.

During the public comment period, Sonoma Valley High School, former school trustee Helen Marsh and others praised the efforts of the negotiating teams in reaching the agreement, but expressed concern that the process took so long.

“I would like to congratulate all those who brought this [agreement] to fruition,” Marsh said. “But I don’t know why it took so long. It is a monumental waste of time. If there had been more transparency and honesty, this would have been done much more quickly and we wouldn’t have spent so much social and political capital.”

Sonoma Valley High School video arts teacher Peter Hansen added, “Imagine if we took all the energy that went into the past few week, bottled it and put it into our students — wow!” he said. “But a lot of good can come from this agreement, if it passes. It would attract new teachers who can afford to live here and retain veteran teachers who can help them. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Trustee Troy Knox responded to these public comments.

“I think this is an important day and a significant time to celebrate,” he said. “I know you all worked very hard and spent a lot of hours it coming to this moment, but I do want to capture what was mentioned in public comment about it not having to be this difficult or painful, or in some cases, hurtful.

“One of the things that is going to stick with me for a time is the fact that there is a level of distrust, and if we can’t let go of that, we need to address it,” he said. “If we can’t trust each other, it’s going to make our jobs much more difficult and it’s going to adversely affect our students for years to come. I ask that our teams consider other options for negotiating and problem-solving.”

Also on the school board’s agenda

The agenda for the Nov. 15 school board meeting also included a vote on whether to move forward with a 10-year contract, the Project Stabilization Agreement, with the North Bay Building and Construction Trades Council. The board unanimously approved the agreement on Nov. 17, 2020, but on May 18, 2021, it voted in a closed session to rescind it by a 4-1 vote. The trades council subsequently filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to require the district to comply with the agreement.

At the board meeting on Tuesday, the board’s legal counsel on the issue, Glenn Gould, was not present to make a presentation or answer questions about the agenda item. He addressed the meeting via phone, but some board members said they still do not feel they have enough information to vote on the matter and want to hear from Gould in person.

After considerable discussion, the board voted 4-1 to have a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 6, in which Gould will be present and more information about the issue will be available. Trustees Melanie Blake, Cathy Coleman, John Kelly and Troy Knox voted in favor of holding the meeting, and Anne Ching was opposed, saying that under the circumstances, she feels more time is needed to make the decision.

Also during the Nov. 15 meeting, Josh Braff, SVUSD’s chief business official, provided a brief budget update in which he stated that as of Oct. 31, the school district’s 2022-23 budget shows $73,569,838 in revenues and $70,270,190 in expenditures, resulting in a surplus of $3,299,648. This represents a gain of $7,452,290 from the Sept. 30 total of -$4,152.642 and can be largely attributed to additional grant money received.

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at

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