Sacramento schools reopen as tentative deal ends strike
Schools reopened Monday in the Sacramento City Unified School District after teachers and other workers reached tentative agreements that raise wages and hand out one-time allowances, ending a crippling strike that shut down schools. schools for eight days.
School district officials announced the tentative agreement Sunday night with the Sacramento City Teachers Assn. and SEIU Local 1021, a union representing bus drivers, teacher’s aides and custodial staff, and other classified personnel.
The strike in the Californian capital that began on March 23 – affecting 43,000 students and 76 schools – was prompted by what teachers and other classified district staff said were severe staffing shortages, heavy workloads and salary concerns. The strike came as districts across the country face similar crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including job vacancies, burnout and the pressures of school resumption.
The tentative agreement includes a 4% salary adjustment based on cost-of-living increases, thousands of dollars in one-time allowances and improved dental and vision care plans – changes that attack the drivers of shortage of classified staff, unions said. The agreement with the teachers’ union also includes a cost-of-living salary adjustment, one-time allowances, additional paid COVID-19 sick days and a salary increase for substitute teachers and three additional days of professional development, among other stipulations.
Prior to the strike, the district had hundreds of vacancies for educators and classified non-teaching staff, straining employees, union leaders said. Karla Faucett, president of SEIU Local 1021, said there are about 400 vacancies among classified staff — including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and school maintenance crews — that were exacerbated by static pay and lack of benefits. Often, school staff take other jobs to stay afloat or move to another district that offers a more competitive salary. At one point, the shortage of bus drivers was so severe that teachers were driving students home, Faucett said.
The agreement gives raises to those among the lowest paid in the district and gives incentives to keep workers on the job and to help with recruiting efforts, Faucett said. The district agreed to a $2,000 retention bonus for bus drivers next year, as well as signing bonuses for new bus drivers. The benefits of improved vision are among other new benefits.
“There’s going to be a huge healing process,” she said. “We have a long way to go.”
For educators, the strike came at a critical time. About 100 teachers planned to retire or quit next school year, a higher number than usual, said David Fisher, president of the Sacramento Teachers Assn. The district was facing the possibility of having up to 400 vacant teaching positions next year. Before schools were closed for eight days during the strike, Fisher said on average, thousands of students were seeing each other daily without regular instructors due to a lack of substitute teachers.
“The doors were open, but it wasn’t like what you consider a school,” Fisher said.
The tentative agreement includes increased pay for substitute teachers and additional pay for teachers working longer hours, Fisher said.
“‘Stopping the bleeding’ was our first goal,” he said.
Although the teachers’ union’s tentative agreement with the district will not ‘magically solve’ the shortages, teachers will have more incentives to stay, including no cuts in health spending benefits.
The unions received community support, with some parents staging a sit-in outside the superintendent’s office during the strike to pressure the superintendent and the district to negotiate.
United Superintendent of the City of Sacramento. Jorge A. Aguilar said in a statement that the agreements with the unions “demonstrate how much we value our employees” who return to school on Monday. Aguilar also acknowledged the mass shooting over the weekend in Sacramento in a nightclub neighborhood where six people died and 12 others were injured.
“Schools serve as refuges and centers of emotional and mental health support for many students,” Aguilar said. “This tragedy underscores the importance of our students and staff returning on Monday, and I look forward to welcoming our students back.”