Severe staffing crisis in Sacramento schools leads teachers and staff to go on strike

Students in Sacramento City’s Unified School District are still out of class on Tuesday as a stalemate continues between teachers and workers’ unions against the district.

Teachers and classified employees of the Sacramento City Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union began their strike on March 23, but the SEIU said they had been negotiating with the district since October.

“We want equality across the district. And so far they’re just playing games and not responding seriously to our proposals. They don’t show any urgency to end the strike or end the workforce crisis,” Jennie Smith-Camejo said. spokesperson for the SEIU about the school district in an interview with ABC News.

According to the SCTA, teachers and school staff started their strike last week because of the “serious staffing crisis” in the district.

“Every day, 3,000 SCUSD students go without even a substitute teacher and nearly 600 students go without any instruction due to a lack of independent study instructors,” the SCTA claimed on its website.

Both unions say the shortage is taking its toll on students and their education.

“Kids wait at bus stops and come to school an hour or two hours late because there aren’t enough bus drivers, and they have to do one route and go back and pick up another route,” Smith-Camejo said.

“We have teaching assistants who are left alone with whole classrooms full of kids, which isn’t what they should be doing. They should be working one-on-one with special needs kids,” Smith-Camejo said. She said they have to write curricula if they are not certified teachers, and that is not their job.

According to Smith-Camejo, the transportation department lost 25% of its staff in the past six months.

“Obviously the reason for this is that the job is very stressful, the working conditions are not good right now and it doesn’t pay enough. So people find better jobs either in neighboring school districts or in the private sector and they leave, and they are incapable of replacing those people,” Smith-Camejo said.

The problem doesn’t end there, says the teachers’ union. Teacher shortages force some schools to combine classes.

“Some students, like at John F. Kennedy High School on certain days, would stop 13 classes in an auditorium because they didn’t even have substitute teachers, let alone regular teachers,” an SCTA spokesperson, Jamie Horwitz, told reporters. ABC News in an interview.

Horwitz told ABC News that the district is short of 250 regular teachers and 100 substitute teachers.

Because the district is short, 15 independent study teachers have received no instruction from 571 students who applied for self-study because of health or other reasons before the strike, Horwitz said.

The SCUSD admits it has a staffing crisis,” but so do most of the other school districts in the state. This problem predates these negotiations and will continue after this contract is settled. Public schools, and especially SCUSD, do not have enough qualified teachers and substitutes to enter the profession to fill vacant positions,” the district says on its website.

“Despite offering the most generous total compensation in the region, SCUSD is still struggling to attract qualified teachers and substitutes to fill vacant positions,” the district said.

The SCUSD said its current offering to the SCTA “would help address the workforce crisis, with hiring bonuses and compensation increases to bolster retention. We want to reach an agreement with SCTA and urge SCTA to end the strike.” , so we can work together to address our district’s staffing problem.”

The district said it has taken “meaningful steps” to address understaffing since 2017 and said its COVID proposals would have addressed these issues.

“The district’s previous COVID-related proposals, which SCTA did not agree to, would work to alleviate some of the staffing problems and compensate employees for their additional workload,” SCUSD said on its website. “The lack of agreement on these COVID-related issues has prevented staff from receiving additional pay for taking on additional work related to COVID. Without an agreement, the district cannot appoint district training specialists who usually work at the district office to cover classes when there are is a vacancy on a school grounds.”

SCTA claims the district can afford to recruit and retain educators and is in “the best financial position in its history.”

The SCTA claims the district has hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds and has had budget surpluses in 11 of the past 12 years, and yet the district has still demanded cuts in the $10,000-a-year average salary for educators, which SCTA believes is the only aggravate the crisis.

“The story of the district is that they have financial problems and historically they had, if you go back like a decade or so. But [now] first of all, they have really bad accounting,” Horwitz said.

The district denies proposing pay cuts and proposes 100% health coverage for SCTA represented staff and their families on a new health plan or 80% coverage on the more expensive old health plan.

Horwitz said the district has said in the past they don’t have enough money and sent pink notes to teachers, only to claim they made a mistake and have a surplus of money later in the year.

According to Horwitz, the SCUSD has $123 million in its reserves and has received more than $320 million from the state and federal governments.

The district says it cannot make long-term commitments on the basis of one-off subsidies.

“The district cannot make ongoing financial commitments with one-time money. The district has received COVID relief funds from the state and federal government in the form of one-time funding to meet the urgent needs of students due to the pandemic. do not spend one-time money on ongoing financial obligations such as salaries and benefits,” SCUSD said on its website.

While the district offered the SEIU a 2% wage increase for workers on Saturday, Smith-Camejo said it was “really unacceptable.”

“Our people are the lowest-paid workers in the district. Many of them earn just a little above minimum wage, even if they’ve been there for decades. And they haven’t had a cost of living adjustment in six years. The Superintendent, who is more earns more than $400,000 a year and only about 10% [adjustment] this year says they only earn 2%,” said Smith-Camejo.

A research report between the teachers’ union and the district recommended that the district “provide a general salary increase retroactively to the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, in an amount equal to the increase in the cost of living. for this school year,” the data shows. This type of notification is initiated when employees and management are unable to resolve a dispute and one or both parties ask the state for help.

The SCUSD claims on its website that the total compensation for SCUSD teachers is the highest in Sacramento County, and one of the highest in the region and state.

Horwitz said the district shouldn’t hold onto this money if it can solve this problem.

“Sacramento is the litmus test. Are people going to allow school districts to just say we want to make sure we’re a little bit rich here, we’re just going to stick with our money,” Horwitz said. “This is why there is so much unity in the strike, people feel this is a complete dereliction of duty, the school board and the superintendent.”

“Our members believe that the only way they can get a teacher to the front of the classroom is by walking out of the classrooms,” Horwitz said.

Smith-Camejo said the strike is hard on workers and the union is “so disappointed and outraged that the district is not cooperating”.

“We are so ready for it to end, our members are really eager to get back to work. We know parents want kids back in the classroom, we want the kids back in the classroom, but unfortunately the ward is just not involved” said Smith-Camejo.

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