Solana Beach teachers, school district meet to break salary impasse


Representatives for the Solana Beach School District and its two teachers unions rushed back to the negotiating table on Monday, Feb. 12 in an impromptu attempt to break the salary impasse that has forced the district’s 207 teachers to work without contracts for nearly four months.

Neither side has disclosed what progress, if any, was made at the Feb. 12 negotiation by presstime. Even if an agreement had been reached, its terms would need to be approved by the executive committees of the school district and the teachers unions before being ratified—and publicly disclosed—at an upcoming school board meeting.

But while the unexpected turn offered a measure of hope, teachers launched into a quieter phase of their mounting protest: as of Feb. 12, they have vowed to work only during official school hours.

The teachers’ two unions—the Solana Beach Teachers Association and the Solana Beach Association of Support Professionals—are calling for a 5-percent raise for the current school year and another 5-percent bump next year, which they argue is barely enough to keep pace with the cost of living. The unions are also pushing the district for bigger healthcare contributions, guarantees to limit class sizes and reforms to the way teachers accrue earned leave.

The district has offered a 3-percent raise this year, followed by a 3.25- percent increase for 2018-19.

Negotiations weren’t scheduled to resume until March 3, but district officials asked for the session moments after ending a Feb. 8 school board meeting that had drawn a boisterous, pro-teacher crowd. Several hundred parents and teachers packed into Solana Pacific Elementary School’s auditorium, with each of the 20 speakers meeting a chorus of roars and applause as they implored the district to meet its teachers’ demands and expressed dismay over negotiations having dragged on so long.

Erin Graff Zivin, who has two sons at Solana Vista Elementary School and a third at Skyline Elementary School, raved over the devotion shown by the dozen teachers her family has had in its seven years in Solana Beach schools.

A language professor at USC, she bemoaned the pall that has been cast over teacher morale and blasted the sexist underpinnings she said she sees at play.

“Yes they do this work because they love it, and no love does not pay the bills,” she said. “And since it’s 2018, I think I can cite my sociologist colleagues who know that it is due to the feminization of certain sectors of labor—primary school education being one of them—that teachers continue to be underpaid throughout the country.”

The procession included Skyline Elementary students Maya Meyers and Kaija Kukkonen, who took to the podium to ask board members to reflect on the impact their teachers had on them.

“They teach us how to read, how to do math, they even teach us how to be a better person,” Kaija said. “…We don’t want them to ever leave.”

The prospect of a teacher exodus pervaded the evening’s testimonies.

Diana Baker—mother of three district students and PTA president for Solana Vista, Skyline and the Global Education Program—said she remains astonished by the “disconnect” she’s seen over the two years she has watched negotiations play out. Baker, who specializes in employee retention, wondered whether the school board was factoring in the $20,000 she says it will cost to hire and train each replacement for the teachers who will inevitably leave.

“I implore you to look beyond this year’s budget and look to the budgets five and 10 and 20 years out and see that settling on fair salaries today will help save you millions of dollars in the future,” she said.

Baker also recalled standing in that very spot 16 months ago to advocate for Measure JJ, the bond measure that will generate $105 million to modernize existing schools and build new ones, including the full rebuild underway for Skyline.

“I’m having a really hard time understanding: What is the point of building a $40 million building but staffing it with $40,000 teachers?” she said, drawing a roar of applause. “Is it the fancy new building and shiny new playground that are going to help my son exceed expectations? Or is it the dedicated working teachers who have committed year after year to go above and beyond? You must know by now that it is what’s on the inside that counts.”

As the crowd gathered up their belongings and started to file out, school board president Debra Schade defended the district’s offer, saying it would make Solana Beach teachers the highest-paid in the county, if not the state.

Those terms would push last year’s entry-level salary of $49,066 up to $50,538 this year and $52,180 next year. All told, incremental salary increases over the past 15 years have totaled 31 percent, not counting a one-time, 6-percent bonus doled out for the 2016-17 school year.