More than 400 Santa Barbara School District teachers crashed the party at the S.B. School Board meeting Tuesday night hoping to break the stalemate in their current contract negotiations with the district. But despite the raucous, occasionally heated, and constantly high-energy union-organized demonstration, the two sides — still miles apart in their now several-month-old negotiation process — failed to reach an agreement during Wednesday’s eight-hour final round of state-mediated talks.
With the word “strike” buzzing around the room Tuesday night, the failure of compromise during Wednesday’s hearing — though far from a breaking point — is certainly bad news for the district as well as students and teachers alike. Now it is up to a three-member panel under the Public Employment Relations Board to examine the nitty-gritty of the district’s cash-challenged budget and determine a non-binding middle ground between the teacher’s and their employers that might pave the way for an acceptable deal.
The fact-finding committee will be comprised of a district-appointed representative, a teacher’s union-appointed member, and then a non-partisan chairperson picked from a list of labor professionals provided by the state. In about a month’s time, the panel will convene for a private hearing hoping to hash a compromise — with budget projections in hand — betwixt the teacher’s demands of a 6% raise and the district’s hard-and-fast offer of a 1.5% bump in pay.
However, if the resolve of the union as witnessed on Tuesday is any indication, it seems that unless the district is willing to reconsider teacher salaries in a big way, things may be gridlocked for some time yet. Receiving a thunderous applause complete with whistles and catcalls from the packed house Tuesday night, union rep Brian Tanguay (pictured) from the California School Employees Association summarized the teachers’ position by saying to the board and Superintendent Brian Sarvis: “This struggle isn’t about greed. It’s about fair wages for essential work.” Currently, the average SB school teacher makes about $66,000 annually.
For their part, the district maintains that — contrary to the buttons being worn by Tuesday’s demonstrators — the teachers are a priority. It’s just that with declining enrollment and the possibility of closing a school on the horizon, they simply cannot afford to pay any more than the 1.5% figure, especially, according to Superintendent Sarvis, when you factor in the state-mandated minimum budget reserves. Speaking on the subject two weeks ago Sarvis commented, “It comes down to money and we [the elementary and high school districts] don’t have a lot of it.”
The explanation isn’t nearly good enough according to the union’s head negotiator Ken Stevens. Taking the mike Tuesday night during public comment, Stevens said the district’s offer adds up to little more than $50 extra a month for most teachers — a number that doesn’t come close to helping them cope with Santa Barbara’s ridiculous cost of living nor even offset the money most teachers spend out of their own pocket to pay for classroom supplies. Calling out Sarvis for accepting a 3% raise on his own $160,000 annual salary earlier this year in the midst of the stalled teacher talks, Stevens pointed his finger at the Board Tuesday declared with a noted amount of venom, “Your offer isn’t a raise, it’s a partial reimbursement…Please look to the future and make teachers a priority once again in Santa Barbara.”