With signs that read “Keep Good Teachers With Fair Pay,” “You can’t put students FIRST if you put teachers LAST” and “WTF? Where’s the Funding,” more than 300 Gilroy teachers and supporters picketed outside last week’s school board meeting.
The Gilroy Teachers Association’s signs and chants in front of the 7810 Arroyo Circle Gilroy Unified district headquarters protested “the lack of a fair contract settlement between the teachers’ union…and the Gilroy Unified School District School Board,” according to organizers.
Other slogans by teachers, parents and students who lined the street in a show of solidarity read: “You’ll no longer have the comfort of our silence,” “Please don’t make me move to San Jose,” “My second job pays for my classroom supplies,” “I’m a teacher not a saint. 2 percent isn’t enough,” and “It’s time to use our outside voices.”
The teachers union, whose members have worked without a contract since the previous one expired in June 2017, and district leaders are at an impasse in contract negotiations. They are currently engaged in a fact-finding process through the state’s Public Employee Relations Board, after attempts to reach a settlement through mediation failed.
Gilroy teachers, amongst the lowest paid in Santa Clara County, are asking for a 6 percent pay raise and for the district to contribute an additional 5 percent for health benefits.
The district’s offer currently on the table is a 2 percent pay increase and no additional contribution to the health care package.
Gilroy’s starting salary for a first-year teacher is $50,743, according to edjoin.org, the education recruiter site used by California school districts. Other nearby local school districts with higher starting salaries include Morgan Hill Unified School ($54,989), San Jose Unified ($54,958) and East Side High School District ($55,349). At both San Jose Unified and East Side, full-time employees pay no out-of-pocket premiums for health benefits.
The district, which continues to present its side of the negotiations to the public through its “Negotiations Update” tab on the gusd.k12.ca.us/ website, claims that the teacher demands will zap the district’s reserve fund and “would bankrupt the District in the third year.” Compounding matters is that district revenues are expected to decrease by nearly $1.3 million next year because of declining enrollment, according to a district report.
“Our kids take the brunt of it when the district decides to keep extra money in reserves instead of spending it on what students need—their teachers,” said Gilroy teacher Lindsay Hack at the May 17 school board meeting. “It is hard to understand why other districts manage to prioritize recruiting and retaining teachers in their annual budgets, but year after year, GUSD just can’t seem to manage it.”
Gilroy teachers also demonstrated by gathering at the flagpoles of their respective schools 30 minutes prior the start of the school day earlier on May 17 and plan to continue to do so until a new contract is reached. In addition, they plan to picket at the district office again ahead of the May 31 school board meeting, according to organizers.
“We really would like to work with our district and get them back to the table,” said Amber Woodward, a Christopher High School teacher and association vice president.