Sonoma teachers due for a raise, says district

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Also on the agenda

On Feb. 12, the board of trustees will also discuss:

• Inter and intra district transfer procedures

• Student expulsion procedures

• Summer school 2019

• Strategic planning update

• Selection of a Calif. School Board Association delegate

Over the past few weeks, teachers across the state have been rallying, marching and going out on strike demanding better wages and smaller class sizes.

In Sonoma Valley, the two unions that represent the teachers and school staff in the district are also passionate about better wages, and so far their impassioned demands have been met by agreement from district officials.

“We are out of financial distress now so our teachers unions have high expectations (in the current round of contract negotiations),” said Bruce Abbott, the school district’s associate superintendent for business services. “We are going to work with them to come up with something that everyone is happy with. It has been a very positive process thus far.”

The two local unions, the Valley of the Moon Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association, will both present initial contract negotiation updates to the school board today, Feb. 12.

Most district negotiations with teachers typically take place around this time of year in California. “Districts tend to tackle labor negotiations after the governor presents his budget proposal on Jan. 10,” said Abbott, which is concurrent with most district’s own interim budget reports.

“And this year is a tense one (around the state),” said Abbott.

That said, both Abbott and representatives for Sonoma Valley’s school employees spoke positively about the progress being made with local negotiations.

When reached by email over the weekend, Valley of the Moon Teachers Association co-presidents Cheryl Coldiron and Renea Magnani, issued the following statement:

“The VMTA places salaries for educators as our highest priority. Educators need to be able to live in the communities in which they work. We stand strong in our pursuit to increase salaries so we can attract and retain qualified educators in Sonoma.”

Across California, the average teacher salary is currently around $80,000 according to the CA Legislative Analysts Office. The average teacher in Sonoma Valley makes a salary of $65,909, lower than the average teacher in Napa ($78,177), but more than teachers in Cotati-Rohnert Park ($62,696).

Most school districts, including Sonoma, have two-pronged (“step and column”) salary schedules for teachers. These grids specify how much raises are worth. Teachers earn a “step” increase for each additional year of experience and a “column” increase for having more education.

According to district documents, the salary schedule in Sonoma Valley for K-12 teachers ranges from $44,449 to $79,851 for the current school year.

“Apparently, SVUSD has a long history of paying lower salaries than surrounding areas for decades,” said longtime SVHS math teacher Michelle Clark, recounting that a relative of hers taught in Sonoma for a short time in the 1960s and left in search of higher pay. “It seems that not much has changed since then.”

But focusing solely on salaries is not an accurate measure, says Abbott.

Sonoma Valley is known for offering a “generous” benefits package. When total compensation is considered, Abbott said that what Sonoma Valley pays might still fall slightly below the state average but less so. He explained that calculating exact percentages are difficult because there is not a single percentage or dollar value for health insurance, it varies by the choices each employee makes with regard to benefits, family size, etc. His best estimation is that district teachers get an additional 44 percent on top of their salary in total benefits, on average.

Also on the agenda

On Feb. 12, the board of trustees will also discuss:

• Inter and intra district transfer procedures

• Student expulsion procedures

• Summer school 2019

• Strategic planning update

• Selection of a Calif. School Board Association delegate

Across the nation, teachers are responsible for, on average, 16 percent of their health plan premiums for individual coverage. In Sonoma Valley, they pay only 10 percent.

The funding of teacher pensions is another major factor in the district’s overall budget, said Abbott, but less of a focus during contract negotiations as contributions are determined by the state. After retirement, Sonoma Valley school staff do not receive social security, they instead receive a pension. The district spent roughly $4.58 million on employee pensions this year, about 9 percent of its operating budget.

But benefits aside, Abbott said that he feels strongly that if it is fiscally possible, Sonoma Valley should be paying its teachers at or above the county average.

“We need to be able to attract and retain the best teachers,” he said. “We need to be aware of what other districts in Sonoma County are paying. Why would a teacher come here if they can make $10,000 more just down the road in a neighboring town?”

“It is downright tragic how many great teachers we have lost to higher paying districts,” agreed Clark. “When you couple lower salaries with the high cost of living, it becomes clear that living and working here is not a tenable solution for most in the long term. As a single parent, I am reluctant to add a commute to my list of responsibilities, but I have considered it multiple times.”

Even if the district and the unions agree to a salary hike this winter, that doesn’t mean that overnight, Sonoma teacher salaries will jump significantly.

Sources close to the negotiations said that any raises are likely to be single-digit increases, phased in over time. Staffing already accounts for about 86 percent of the Sonoma Valley Schools’ budget in the current school year.

The two unions’ updates are information items on the school district agenda, meaning that no action will be take on Feb. 12. The collective bargaining negotiations are ongoing and expected to conclude in the next 90 days, according to Abbott.

Search for average teacher salary in any district in California at https://tinyurl.com/y5krh88c.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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