Sonoma Valley school district to implement $15 minimum wage

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The Sonoma Valley Unified School District announced Monday that it has reached a tentative agreement with the local school employee union to boost the pay for its lowest paid hourly wage employees, or “classified staff,” to $15 an hour – nearly three years ahead of the state-mandated minimum wage bump.

The district’s negotiating team has been working out a deal with the local California School Employees Association chapter for the past two months.

Its negotiations with its teachers union, or certificated staff, is ongoing.

“We decided to go ahead and do the entire increase now, rather than waiting for the city or the state to implement a higher minimum wage,” he said. “It is the right thing to do.” Abbott stressed that the move was possible while also maintaining fiscal solvency.

Sonoma Valley Unified’s 266 classified employees include administrative staff, bus drivers, maintenance workers, food service, librarians and classroom aides.

The agreement most dramatically impacts approximately 100 employees who were previously paid less than $15 an hour. The jump to $15 means that some of them will receive a wage increase of as much as 34 percent over the course of this school year, said Abbott.

Those school employees who were already making more than $15 an hour will receive a 2.5 percent raise.

If approved by the school board, all raises will be effective immediately and retroactive to July 1.

Sonoma Valley Unified has 522 employees overall, making it the Valley’s largest employer; second is the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, with 480 employees.

“We were pleased the negotiations went smooth and we feel valued,” said CSEA Chapter 376 President Terri Hernandez in a press release announcing the decision. “We appreciate the effort and the collaboration by the school district, and CSEA union to work together as a team.” Hernandez is the office manager at Creekside Alternative High School on the Sonoma Valley High School campus.

The Sonoma Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees will vote on the wage hike at its March 12 meeting in Council Chambers at 177 First St.

“There are many ways to show appreciation,” said board president Nicole Abate Ducarroz in the announcement distributed on March 4. “Compensation is one tangible difference we can make in the lives of the people we value, who work so tirelessly on behalf of Sonoma Valley children and their families. It’s wonderful that our team came together to figure out a way we could lead this effort now. Making it retroactive is a bonus that’s completely appropriate, putting the dollars where they matter most, into our people. May this trend continue.”

Abbott believes that Sonoma Valley is the first district in the county to make the move to a district-wide $15 minimum wage.

“My team is extremely happy with the raise,” said Tony Albini, who oversees the district’s maintenance and operations staff.

“This is great news,” said Marty Bennett co-chair of North Bay Jobs with Justice. “The disconnect between rents and wages in Sonoma is no longer a crisis, it is a catastrophe.”

Bennett said that this move will give momentum to his organization’s campaign to get county cities, including Sonoma, to implement a $15 minimum wage by 2020.

Email lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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