Members of the Brookings-Harbor Education Association joined more than 200 teachers from California at the Del Norte Unified School District Board meeting on Aug. 22 to make a unified, emotional plea to resume contract negotiations.
Brookings Harbor Education Association President Dane Tippman lead the support for the Del Norte Teachers Association from north of the border.
“I’m a proud product of Smith River Elementary School, and 2005 DNHS grad,” he said. “I brought a couple of people with me because we heard our brothers and sisters could possibly use our support. My message for you five people today, in addition to the messages that you have heard and will continue to hear, is that this is something that you can fix. You have the power to make a change here.”
Wearing red t-shirts with the message, #RedforEd, speaker after speaker shared personal stories of why they became educators and that they deserved more from the district for their efforts.
After six months of negotiations and seven meetings, the Del Norte Unified School District remains at a one percent increase to the salary schedule. Del Norte Teachers Association members feel their negotiators meanwhile have tried to compromise several times to no avail, leading to both sides to agree to an impasse June 28.
Patsy Shelton, 7th grade english teacher at Crescent Elk Middle School, said her 22-year-old son Wyatt is an entry level firefighter for CalFire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) working seasonal and he will make more money than she does this year.
“When I told him what I was doing this afternoon, he told me, ‘Mom, if they don’t think you’re valuable enough for a raise, they must not know what you do.’ And I think he’s right, because he has come to my classroom and spent a whole day there,” Shelton said.
“I put out more fires than he ever will. I learn the names, the personalities, the needs, the hopes and the dreams of a 180 students. And I leave the classroom every day kicking myself when I didn’t meet the needs of a particular student. I carry that burden on my shoulders every day of my life.”
Miriam Wilson, English teacher, yearbook advisor and English Language Development teacher at Del Norte High School, put her feelings succinctly.
“Think about this — 40-plus freshman, imagine it. And I’m worth one percent? That’s cruel,” Wilson said.
Music teacher Dan Sedgwick said they’ve all put in long hours and sacrificed much.
“Every teacher in this district works really hard. More than we’re expected to. I spend so many hours at school, my family rails at me, am I coming home for dinner soon? But nothing hurt my soul more than when I had to shut down my classroom at lunch time. That hurt, but when my union asked me to do that for two weeks, I did it, because this is worth it. We’re worth it,” Sedgwick said.
Board President Frank Magarino, said afterwards that it was frustrating having to listen to the teachers without being able to have a conversation.
“It’s like listening to a one-sided argument,” Magarino said. “But it violates law, and we don’t want to give the impression of negotiating in public. We can fall into Brown Act violations if we’re not careful.”
Marshall Jones, DNTA president, ran into the same predicament when he pleaded with the board members to help settle the contract impasse by directing the district’s team to return to negotiations.
“You have the power. They work for you. You don’t work for them. Don’t be swayed by fear tactics that a recession is looming,” Jones said. “Your bargaining team has not budged from one percent in six months. We’ve offered four compromises, but your bargaining team has offered one — over and over and over and over again,” Jones said. “So let’s have an action, right now. We’re all here. Do I hear a motion to direct the district to go back to the table?”
When his call for a motion went unanswered, Superintendent Jeff Harris explained the conflict with the Brown Act.
“You guys understand they legally can’t? That’s against the Brown Act. Even if they took a vote, it would be challenged in court,” Harris said.
Harris later explained no one can ask the school board to add and agenda item without a 72-hour advance notice which assures the public knows what’s going to be discuss and come prepared if wanting to add comment.
“If action is taken without that 72-hour notice, the legal remedy is potentially nullification of any actions took,” Harris said. “We want to be careful and transparent, ensuring the public knows what’s going on.”
The next phase in negotiation is fact finding, where both sides elect a representative to represent their case to a neutral third party.
Colleen Parker, district director of human resources, said after the fact-finding process, the third party abritor can make recommendations. “They’re not binding, but it allows both sides to return to the table and negotiate around the recommendation,” Parker said. “If they still don’t have an agreement, the union can vote to strike if they choose. The district would then unilaterally implement its last offer.”
Paige Thompson, lead negotiator for DNTA, said time is not on the district’s side with its cost it will have on students.
“Six of the bargaining sessions happened last school year. There are five negotiators, six sessions, that’s 30 days that you had teachers out of their classrooms, and 12 days had high school administrators out of their schools to be on district team. How many more days out of the classroom are you all willing to sign off on to get this contract settled? Keep in mind even after we settle this, and we will, after this fall, this coming spring with this same class of students we will be out of our classrooms even more days to bargain for next year’s contract,” Thompson said.