Gilroy teachers are urging the school district to dip into reserves to retain educators as contract negotiations are ongoing.
Gilroy Unified School District officials, meanwhile, say declining enrollment and funding will further complicate a murky financial future due to Covid-19.
More than 15 teachers wrote in for the Board of Education’s Nov. 19 meeting, expressing their disappointment with the negotiations to renew the three-year agreement that ended in June.
Some teachers said the district was not offering enough toward salaries and benefits, which they say are among the lowest in the county.
For the 2018-19 school year, Gilroy’s starting salary for a first-year teacher was $53,849, according to the California Department of Education. By comparison, starting salaries of nearby local school districts are $49,318 for Morgan Hill Unified, $54,958 for San Jose Unified and $58,291 for East Side High School District.
Teachers say the district is faced with a high turnover rate among its more than 500 educators. More than 30 resigned at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, according to personnel updates provided to the board, which is about average in recent years.
“Gilroy students deserve high-quality teachers who make a living wage and are able to afford to live in the community where they teach,” wrote Gilroy High School English teacher Caitlin Filice-Hollar. “Gilroy Unified must commit to make an ongoing investment in the classroom that will allow us to attract and retain high-quality teachers.”
Janet Lee, a science teacher at Gilroy High, wrote that she has seen “many great, amazing educators” leave the district because they cannot afford to live here.
“Who suffers when that happens? Students,” she wrote. “Students do not benefit from having a revolving door of teachers and they do not benefit when they cannot build lasting relationships in their high school career.”
The district and teachers association agreed on a one-time stipend of three percent to support teachers in their distance learning efforts, which was approved by the board on Nov. 5. The stipend, expected to cost $1.7 million, was funded by federal coronavirus relief funds.
Other employee groups have also received the stipend.
The teachers’ union points to the district’s reserve of $32 million, saying those funds could be used toward teachers’ salaries.
According to the district, the pandemic-related shutdown of schools from April to June resulted in a higher-than-expected fund balance than previous budget projections.
The district estimates it has saved $9.1 million during this time, from utility costs, supplies and salaries.
However, the district cannot rely on these one-time savings, Superintendent Deborah Flores said.
“Although it appears that the district has a healthy reserve, much of these one-time funds are already designated for specific purposes such as: textbooks, maintenance work, feeding families, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff and students when they return, cleaning and disinfecting supplies, and ventilation improvements,” Flores wrote in a Nov. 20 update. “The district cannot depend on these one-time funds to cover ongoing expenses.”
Enrollment has steadily declined from a high of 11,483 during the 2016-17 school year, and is projected to be 10,870 during the 2020-21 school year.
“The district continues to experience fiscal uncertainty caused by the pandemic/recession,” Flores wrote. “Additionally, a significant contributing factor to our uncertainty is the continued decline in student enrollment—270 fewer students this school year, which equals a loss of $2.7 million.”
In 2019, the board voted to close Antonio Del Buono Elementary School due to declining enrollment. The school in north Gilroy, now used as a Covid-19 testing site, shut its doors at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.