gilroy unified school district administration building camino arroyo
Photo: Erik Chalhoub

School district officials and teachers have declared an impasse in their contract talks, following months of negotiations that did not yield an agreement.

After the two sides met on Feb. 11, the Gilroy Unified School District and Gilroy Teachers Association decided to request mediation from the Public Employment Relations Board, according to district spokesperson Melanie Corona.

A request was filed with the PERB on Feb. 15, which will assign a mediator.

“The GUSD team looks forward to meeting as soon as possible with the mediator and the GTA negotiating team and hopes that a settlement can be reached soon,” Corona said.

The one-year agreement between GUSD and GTA ended in June. At recent Board of Education meetings, dozens of teachers have spoken out on the negotiations.

Teachers say the district refuses to “make meaningful movement on our proposals,” according to a Feb. 11 announcement by the GTA, such as salary increases to retain educators, a commitment to smaller class sizes and more mental health support for students.

District officials, meanwhile, point to declining enrollment and rising pension costs that are eating into reserves.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Alvaro Meza said the district’s enrollment has fallen from 11,135 in 2019-20 to 10,624 in the current school year. 

A report from PowerSchool projects a minimal decline of 29 students next year, but a drop of 440 by 2026. The district receives funding from the state based on its average enrollment.

Pension costs are expected to increase by $2 million next year, according to Meza.

As such, the district will be deficit spending this year and next, and expects to return to a balanced budget in 2023. But Meza cautioned that these numbers are preliminary, and do not include any updated agreements with the various bargaining units.

Carol Juneau, a third grade teacher at Eliot Elementary School, said many GUSD teachers are leaving to join other districts for a higher salary.

For the 2020-21 school year, GUSD’s teacher salaries ranged from $56,138-$105,058, according to the California Department of Education. By comparison, salaries of nearby local school districts ranged from $50,809-$108,761 for Morgan Hill Unified, $57,426-$106,998 for San Jose Unified and $61,991-$125,613 for East Side Union High School District.

“Issues such as class sizes, resource staffing, a healthy caseload and compensation are a concern for many staff members like myself,” she wrote to the board.

Nancy Mesa, a fourth grade teacher at Rod Kelley Elementary School, said her 900-square-foot classroom has been “bursting at the seams” with 45 students when substitutes are not available.

“Every student desk in my room is occupied and the extra students end up sitting at tables or even on the floor,” she wrote. “That is definitely not an environment conducive to productive learning.”

Covid-related absences dropping

The district is pulling out of a rough January that saw countless classes be canceled and hundreds of students and staff stay home as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 hit its peak.

As a result, parents have reported students flooding school libraries due to canceled classes. On one day in early February, Gilroy High School had 12 classrooms without a substitute, according to a message to parents from school officials.

Superintendent Deborah Flores said roughly 20% of students and 15% of staff had been absent on any given day in January, with Covid-19 cited as the main reason.

In mid-February, that number had dipped by half for students and staff, according to Flores, and is dropping closer to its pre-pandemic absentee percentage of 5%.

According to district data, 12 students tested positive for Covid-19 during the week of Feb. 14-18. But zero staff members tested positive, which was the first week that had happened since early November.

“These have been extremely challenging conditions with the number of absences we’ve had with staff and substitutes,” Flores said. “As they have done throughout the pandemic, staff has stepped up and done whatever they can to help keep our schools open, keep them safe and operating at the highest possible level.”

School districts across the state are required to remain open for in-person learning, as the state’s waiver that allowed for distance learning in lieu of in-person instruction expired June 30.

The school district is expecting a spike in case counts when students return from a weeklong break on Feb. 28, Flores said.

District officials will be distributing more Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Tests for students on Feb. 26 at Gilroy High School.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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