With passing drivers repeatedly honking their horns, faculty from two Santa Maria Valley school districts gathered at an Orcutt intersection last week to rally for support as negotiations for new contracts have stalled.
Members of the Santa Maria Joint Union School District Faculty Association and Orcutt Educators Association both reached impasses in negotiations with their districts.
To highlight the ongoing disputes, more than 125 teachers and supporters stood on all four corners at the intersection of Clark Avenue and Bradley Road last Friday.
While many of the issues are different, both unions were united by one common factor — what they said was a lack of respect from their district administrators and elected school boards.
High school district officials said the faculty sought a hefty raise, initially 18 percent and later 12 percent.
Yet, union leaders said the disagreement involves much more, including the right of teachers to choose their own department chairs.
“It’s not about the money,” said Mark Goodman, president of the Santa Maria faculty association.
He added that the faculty union is asking for a raise of 6.07 percent — “what they gave themselves,” Goodman said of Santa Maria Joint Union High School District administrators.
Classified union employees also received 6.07 percent raises.
The district only challenged the department chair appointment process when those filling the slots began questioning spending, union members said.
“They don’t want to be questioned,” said Margaret Rucker, a Righetti High School math teacher.
“They don’t want to be held accountable for where they’re spending the money. They don’t want to have to speak with teachers and work with teachers in an effort to do what’s best for students.”
Superintendent Mark Richardson and Jack Garvin, president of the Board of Trustees and a retired Orcutt Unified School District superintendent, have especially drawn the ire of the faculty union, which has 385 members at the four high school campuses.
The declining relationship between the district and faculty union coincides with Richardson’s tenure, union officials said.
A survey last year revealed most of the participants said morale is low or very low, union representatives say.
“It hurts to come to school,” Rucker said. “And it’s not the kids, I love the kids.
“We’re here because we love our students, but it’s really hard to come in every day knowing you have no respect from your administration at either the site or the district level.”
Garvin said he has shown respect for teachers throughout his career, including his 12 years on the board.
“One thing I have never been accused of is not respecting teachers,” he said, adding he doesn’t understand why the comments were made.
The district seeks to appoint department chairs because some in those positions are getting paid for extra duty while missing important meetings.
Garvin chalked up the comments to negotiation rhetoric, saying that the concerns about low morale would go away if the salary hike is granted.
“This is not my first rodeo at this,” he said, adding he saw similar tactics while serving as an administrator.
District spokesman Kenny Klein did not provide a comment on the allegations, but said the superintendent sent letters to teachers regarding the negotiations. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that letters had been sent to parents of students in the district.)
Last fall, then-board president Victor Tognazzini, wrote a response to a newspaper story on the survey and labor negotiations, saying the association’s tactics “have delayed negotiations and have created enmity between teachers and the administration.”
After two failed mediation sessions, the spat will now move into a fact-finding phase in which a three-judge panel will make a recommendation that could become the basis of a negotiation settlement.
The high school district faculty showed up at the intersection first, with Orcutt teachers arriving 45 minutes later for the rally. Union officials say the demonstration was aimed at raising public awareness about the teachers’ disputes with the district.
Monique Segura, from the Orcutt Educators Association, said one issue in their dispute is money, with the district offering a 3-percent raise while the union is seeking 9.5 percent.
Now in mediation, both sides met one day but made no progress. They are to meet again April 13.
“The other issues are respect issues,” Segura said while taking a break from handing out buttons with the word “Respect” on them.
“You can see our buttons. They have to do with transfer and reassignment. We do not have binding arbitration; We are looking for binding arbitration.”
Another involves working days and some processes they hope to see implemented, she said.
“We are hopeful our mediator will be able to push,” Segura said. “We are absolutely as an association ready for negotiation. We need the district to be at that same place with us.”
The union has 238 members who work on the district’s 10 campuses.
Orcutt Superintendent Deborah Blow said she remains hopeful the state-appointed mediator will help reach an agreement. Both sides have agreed on several topics including professional development and increased stipends for teacher leaders, $1,200 per teacher annually.
The district’s offer of 3 percent would cost nearly $800,000 more while an increase in health benefits would add another $270,770 annual commitment.
A 3-percent raise would mean the teachers have received a 12-percent pay hike in the past three years, not counting boosts in medical benefits or or bonuses, Blow added.
OEA’s requested 9.5-percent increase would make salaries on par with neighboring districts, but add up to a $1.7 million cost for Orcutt and require cutbacks. Those cuts would include increasing class sizes and reducing other programs and personnel.
“We value and respect our teachers, and feel we have offered them fair compensation, that we can afford and sustain over time, while continuing to provide the necessary programs to support our students and prepare them for future success,” Blow said.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.