Taking it to the Streets

San Marcos Students Weigh In on Teacher Pay Debate

by Ethan Stewart

Contentious and gridlocked, the salary negotiations between the
Santa Barbara School District and its teachers took an unusual turn
last week, as more than 100 high school students skipped school in
a show of support for their teachers. Risking Saturday detention
and possible repercussions on the home front, dozens of San Marcos
High School students ditched class last Friday in an effort to call
attention to the labor talks between teachers and district
officials currently being mediated by a state official.

Though the morning began with about 60 students taking part in
the all-day protest, by the end of lunchtime, the group gathered
outside on the school’s front lawn at the corner of Hollister
Avenue and Turnpike Road had grown to well over 120 students.
Toting signs, chanting “Support our teachers!” and eliciting
repeated honks of approval from motorists, the group stayed until
the end of the school day, promising to continue their efforts
until, as one student put it, “The teachers get what they
deserve.”

Claiming budget restrictions in the face of declining
enrollment, the district has held fast since late last summer to
its offer of a 1.5 percent raise, while the teachers — who
initially sought a 7 percent increase — have refused to adjust
their demand lower than 6.5 percent, citing the high cost of local
living and the fact that the state has kicked down an unusually
high amount of money from the governor’s office this year.
According to district numbers, the average Santa Barbara teacher
currently makes about $66,000 annually.

The teachers’ union raised more than a few eyebrows from parents
and school board members alike when it implemented a “slowdown” two
weeks ago, in which some educators from every school site stopped
providing voluntary services to students, such as homework clubs
and after-school and lunchtime extra help. Detractors felt the
eight-day slowdown unfairly placed the students in the crosshairs
of the ongoing salary battle.

But last week’s demonstration was entirely unrelated to any
teacher activities, according to one of its chief organizers, San
Marcos senior Zach King. Gesturing to the colorful sea of students
gathered around him, King explained, “This is completely
student-organized. The teachers had nothing to do with it … We just
wanted to show people what’s happening and that we support our
teachers.”

In a move that would make any educator proud, the protesting
students were anything but idle during their skipped day, as they
participated in what King termed a “teaching skill-share”: students
coached each other in endeavors such as jewelry making, guitar
playing, dance, and letter writing. The last skill they planned to
put to work generating letters to district officials detailing the
many positive ways local teachers have impacted them. Many of the
students shrugged off the possibility of punishment, though San
Marcos’s Assistant Principal Ed Behrens promised, “There are
classes being skipped, and if there are unexcused absences, they
will get a Saturday detention.”

The day before the San Marcos protest, union representatives and
district officials met yet again with a state-appointed mediator,
but to no immediate avail. At the mediator’s behest, both sides
promised to remain tightlipped on the progress of negotiations
until another round of mediation takes place on February 13. But
sources with inside knowledge of the talks say the sides are now
considering a possible deal that would look to make teachers an
obvious priority in the district’s budget making for years to come.
Alluding to that possible progress, but taking into account the
distance between the two sides, Santa Barbara School Board
President Nancy Harter commented, “I’m trying to stay optimistic
that we’ll have a tentative agreement after next week’s
meeting.”

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