Supporters of the San Francisco Unified School District rally outside the Federal Building in April to protest budget cuts to public schools and highlight the lack of affordable teacher housing in The City. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

School district, teachers union face off in ongoing contract bargaining

The San Francisco Unified School District and The City’s teachers union, which is demanding more competitive pay and supportive teaching environments, are still not seeing eye to eye in ongoing contract negotiations.

“We are extremely frustrated. It seems like we should not be negotiating in these times, in that manner,” said union member Frank Lara, a fourth grade teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 School, who has been involved in the bargaining process. “[Teacher] housing is coming five years down the line. The immediate [solution] are salary increases. We know the resources are there.”

The SFUSD’s 2017-18 budget totals $823.9 million, up about $38 million from last year. Gentle Blythe, a spokesperson for the district, estimated that the average teacher’s salary was $71,564 last year, although estimates given by union members are lower.

Last year’s contracts for teachers expired at the end of June, and many are pressing the district for bigger paychecks, among other things, in The City’s increasingly unaffordable housing market.

But with 18 negotiation sessions behind them, it’s unclear when the school district and United Educators of San Francisco, The City’s teachers union, will come to an agreement.

When the negotiations first began last February, UESF demanded an overall 18 percent pay raise for teachers and on Sept. 11 rejected SFUSD’s most recent counterproposal — contracts that would offer an 11 percent pay hike over the next three years and a one-time bonus of 2 percent.

Under the district’s proposal, educators would be offered a “13 percent compensation package” that would be rolled out incrementally — a 3 percent raise this year, a 4 percent raise in the 2018-19 school year and a 3 percent raise the following year — according to Blythe.

In addition, teachers would receive a one-time bonus of 2 percent and another 1 percent pay raise, though the latter comes with a caveat — that money would come from the district’s proposed elimination of Advanced Placement prep periods, or an additional prep period provided for teachers of AP courses, and from cutting sabbaticals.

“This contract provision costs more than $6 million each year, most of which is allocated to only two schools with the largest number of AP classes,” said Blythe, adding that San Francisco is the country’s only school district that offers the additional prep time.

But union members balked at the offer. They are demanding a total 12 percent pay increase over three years, a 4 percent bonus and that AP prep periods and sabbaticals remain in place.

That proposal would cost the school district $136 million over three years, according to Blythe.

“[If] the district is removing prep periods it’s an attack on working conditions,” said Lara, the fourth grade teacher. “Given that we want to have our students excel in public schools, teachers need to be prepared for that high level of instruction.”

Lara pointed out that UESF has already stepped down significantly from its original salary ask, and has met further rejection on its demands for improving classroom conditions.

The union is also looking to secure resources for the implementation of the Safe and Supportive Schools policy, approved by the Board of Education in February 2014, that aims to reduce student suspensions.

The policy calls for resources for teachers that include professional development for restorative justice practices, de-escalation techniques, working with students impacted by trauma, and prioritizing schools with the highest behavioral needs.

“[Since] that resolution was passed, the district hasn’t backed it up with teacher instruction, training, and resources for counselors,” Lara said.

The union has also asked that all SFUSD workshops and trainings be open to substitute teachers, that site-based trainings be facilitated by in-house teachers and union members, and for the creation of alternative learning spaces at five elementary schools to address the needs of students needing “a respite from their regular classroom,” according to the union’s proposal. These demands and others were denied by the district.

“On our behalf it seems outrageous. On their behalf it’s very administrative,” Lara said.

Three more negotiation sessions are scheduled this fall. UESF President Lita Blanc said that the union is “hopeful” the district “will make real movement toward a fair contract that will preserve quality education for San Francisco’s children.”

“However, it is harder and harder to hold on to that hope,” she said. “The district’s last compensation proposal looks like a ‘take-back proposal’ and taking away from educators who work closest with our students does not seem to preserve stable, safe and supportive schools.”

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