Labor negotiators for the San Ramon Valley teachers union are in the process of preparing for their response should bargaining talks with school district management break down, calling a vote requesting members to authorize the executive board to initiate a strike should negotiations fail.
Voting among San Ramon Valley Education Association members opened Monday and will run through Friday at 5 p.m., and as of Wednesday morning 1,303 members have voted, though no tally is available yet, according to SRVEA president Ann Katzburg.
“Financially will the strike have a huge financial impact? No. But it will have a huge impact on our community. A message to the district that we're together in solidarity, that we need to change the culture, and that's our goal. Not to bankrupt the district, our goal is strictly to make sure that we can shape our values to our students needs our students priorities,” Katzburg said at a general membership meeting on Monday, which was videorecorded and posted on the union’s Facebook page.
After declaring an impasse in negotiations with the district, SRVEA leaders have entered into the fact-finding phase of negotiations with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District bargaining team, Katzburg told DanvilleSanRamon.com on Wednesday, which will allow a third party to help the two sides find an amicable solution.
If fact-finding fails and union members vote to approve the authorization, SRVEA leaders would be able to call a strike.
SRVUSD spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich said Wednesday, "We understand that this vote is part of SRVEA’s process. However, we remain committed to the negotiations process and hopeful that the two sides can find common ground and avoid the disruption that a strike would have on the educational environment. We believe strongly that both SRVUSD and SRVEA want the best for our students and will be able to find a solution."
The district is currently offering an ongoing base salary increase of 3% for teachers, but SRVEA leaders have maintained that salary is not their only priority -- as smaller class sizes, more nurses, teacher-librarians, counselors and mental health supports, in addition to the cost of living increase, are key issues they say are not being addressed in negotiations.
For their part, district officials have stated that financial challenges limit their ability to fund everything they would like to.
“We want what our employees want. We want what is best for students. We also want to protect the long term financial health of this district so that we do not end up like other high profile districts that have abandoned this fundamental responsibility and are now unable to get their budgets approved without making draconian cuts,” SRVUSD officials said in a statement released Feb. 15.
According to SRVUSD officials, teachers in the San Ramon Valley receive payment on a multi-tiered system based on years of service and professional development credits.
As of July 2018, teachers starting in the district on average receive a base pay of $50,914 a year. As teachers advance their service, their salaries increase across different levels, with the median step at $77,310. Teachers with the highest level of experience receive approximately $96,311 a year.
Maximum annual health-and-welfare benefit values increase these figures by $24,508, raising total annual salaries to an average of $75,422, $101,818 and $120,819 for the three tiers.
According to the California Department of Education, the average salary of all SRVUSD certified teachers is $77,512, as of the 2017-18 school year.
SRVUSD officials added that this makes their teachers among the highest paid in the region. According to the district, as of July 2018 including base salary and benefits teachers in neighboring Pleasanton Unified received an average of $67,496, $90,281 and $110,682 annually, while teachers in Dublin Unified averaged $66,532, $91,732 and $108,480.
“With the significant lack of funding education receives from the state, and with the SRVUSD being the fourth-lowest funded per student unified school district in California under the Local Control Funding Formula, we are often faced with the need to make very difficult choices about the allocation of limited resources,” district officials stated in their Feb. 15 statement.
SRVEA spokespeople reiterate that while a livable salary is important -- especially due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area -- salary is not the only priority held by their members, and perhaps the district is not as financially unstable as it claims.
“We have directly asked them at the table; ‘are you saying you have an inability to afford our proposals?’ They have never answered that question not once,” bargaining chair and Dougherty Valley High School teacher Rob Gendron said at SRVEA’s Monday meeting. “(Assistant superintendent) Keith Rogenski looked me in the eye and said ‘this is the board's tolerance.’ That's their answer to that question. Which really is an answer of, ‘Yes we can afford it, but no we don't want to.’”
SRVEA is hosting two community events to meet with residents and discuss these issues at length.
SRVEA community town halls will be held Thursday, 7-8:30 p.m., at San Ramon Valley High School, 501 Danville Blvd. in Danville; and March 6, from 7-8:30 p.m. at Dougherty Valley High School, 10550 Albion Road, San Ramon. Interested residents are encouraged to RSVP online.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the district's multi-tiered system for teacher salary. The details have been clarified, along with a link to the pay schedule. The Pleasanton Weekly regrets the error.