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As negotiators with Gilroy Unified School District and Gilroy Teachers Association await their next sitdown Sept. 14 at a fact-finding hearing, a Gilroy High School sophomore offered a student’s perspective on the failed contract talks.

Sophomore Christina Suarez submitted a petition signed by 654 fellow students in support of a pay raise for Gilroy teachers at the Sept. 6 GUSD Board of Trustees meeting.

“I believe our teachers should be able to take care of themselves so they are capable of taking care of us as students, and this petition shows that my peers agree with me,” Suarez told the board. “Our teachers have a daily impact on our lives and educate us so we are capable of growing into the amazing people they want us to be.”

Gilroy teachers, one of the lowest paid among Santa Clara County public school districts, have been working without a contract since June 2017 and have already authorized a strike if a fair agreement cannot be worked out.

While many of the GTA teachers picketed outside the Arroyo Circle headquarters and others addressed the school board prior to a closed session, Suarez took it upon herself to add a narrative during the public portion of Thursday’s meeting.

“Our teachers work hard for us. They spend many hours that are unpaid, checking homework and tests and preparing lessons,” Suarez said. “Many of them spend their own money on lessons and supplies to ensure that we are engaged in learning.”

District leaders have already begun to take precautions in the event that a contract can’t be reached and the teachers don’t show up for work. They are recruiting substitute teachers at an inflated daily rate of $500 and have produced an informational video for parents to know what to expect during a teacher work stoppage.

“I’m going to be very optimistic and hopeful that by the end of the day (at the Sept. 14 hearing) we have a settlement,” said Supt. Deborah Flores during her report at the Sept. 6 school board meeting.

Gilroy teacher Cherie Foster, who also addressed the school board and administration last week, took offense to the fact that the district is seeking substitutes to replace them in the classroom.

“If you are willing to pay a substitute $500 a day in case we go to a strike, that’s not really going to come close to replacing the classroom teacher. There is no amount of money you can pay a substitute to replace what we do each and everyday,” Foster said. “It’s 99.9 percent connection with our kids. You can pay a sub a $100 a day, a $1,000 a day, you will never replace the classroom teacher and the education that we provide everyday.”

Foster also called out the board trustees for not taking better action to ensure that a fair contract is reached and a strike is averted. She criticized administrators for only focusing on not losing their Average Daily Attendance money in the event of a strike.

“You want to keep your doors open because that’s how you make money,” Foster said. “Why don’t you put that kind of money to settle a fair contract for the teachers?”

Parent Lisa Prieto, whose youngest of three children attends Gilroy High School, showed her full support for the teachers and their desire to gain a 6 percent pay raise and 5 percent boost in the district’s contribution to health care benefits. The district’s offer was a 2 percent raise and no additional health care contributions before the impasse was declared and negotiations moved into the mediation phase.

“When we have the lowest paid teachers in our (county). …we cannot attract the value teachers and it’s evident in the classroom,” Prieto said. “My daughter last year had a sub for almost six months in her class because you can’t get those teachers.”

District leaders have explained throughout the negotiations that a combination of declining enrollment in Gilroy schools coupled with an increase in pension obligations prevents them from meeting the teacher demands for higher wages.

Teachers would not get paid for each day they strike. District staff developed an online calculator where they can punch in their base income, number of unpaid days and benefits information to see how much money they will lose each day they are not at work.

A group of parents, calling themselves “Parents Support For GTA,” have also set up an online petition, titled “Avoid strike for GUSD! Demand fair pay for teachers!” There are currently 635 supporters on page that’s purpose is “to urge (GUSD) to negotiate a fair salary increase in order to recruit and retain the educators our children deserve.”

“We, Parents of Children in Gilroy Unified School District, support our teachers and do not want them to have to go on strike,” the petition statement states. “If you are not able to settle a fair contract and force the teachers union to strike, we cannot in good faith send our children into an unsafe environment with unqualified teachers.”

For each student not in the classroom, the district loses state aid money for that day.

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