Santa Barbara Teachers Association President Joyce Adriansen speaks during public comment at the Santa Barbara Unified school board meeting on Tuesday, April 11. | Credit: Courtesy

Teachers from the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) stepped up to the podium during last Tuesday’s school board meeting to address issues they say have caused high rates of teacher turnover, such as insufficient pay and large class sizes. 

“The question we need to answer is, ‘How do we retain and recruit consistently great and experienced teachers?’” said Rita Newhouse, a faculty member at Santa Barbara High School.

Before the meeting, nearly 100 SBUSD educators and supporters rallied outside the district office chanting for fair pay. A majority were members of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association (SBTA), who are preparing for contract negotiations with the school district to reopen next year.

During public comment, SBTA President Joyce Adriansen brought up the SBTA’s most recent contract negotiations with the district for the 2021-2024 school years, which included a guaranteed salary increase of 8 percent over those three years. 

According to Adriansen, 24 teachers have resigned so far this year, following 50 who resigned last year. The average teacher salary in Santa Barbara is around $65,000, she said, while the minimum annual salary to afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Barbara is about $178,000.

“At the time we got it, the 8 percent over three years, it was one of the best settlements in the area,” Adriansen said in an interview with the Independent. “But since then, other districts have been getting a whole lot more. We could not have foreseen how prices were going to go up in Santa Barbara; I mean, some rents have almost doubled.”

At the board meeting, she also thanked the board for their unanimous vote to give teachers a one-time $2,000 stipend in December last year. 

“It helped, but it was just a Band-Aid,” she said about the stipend. “Our educators need financial stability.”

Adriansen noted that next year’s 2 percent raise does not match the nationwide projected inflation rate of 6 percent. She mentioned that the SBTA’s negotiating team has met with the district around five times — they requested the district to mutually agree to reopen salary negotiations at the bargaining table but the district refused, she said.

“In the past five years, I watched a number of colleagues leave the district due to the low salaries, subpar insurance, and lack of support,” said Amy Woods, a faculty member at La Colina Junior High School, at the April 11 school board meeting. | Credit: Courtesy

“Part of the three-year mutual agreement was no reopeners on Wages or Benefits,” SBUSD relayed in a statement. “The district and SBTA will negotiate wages and benefits anew for the 2024-2025 school year.”

Adriansen said that the district’s educators often “go above and beyond” their labor agreements by “arriving early and staying late.… They take on extra unpaid duties. They spend hours grading and planning and writing letters of recommendation all on their own time.”  

Some teachers said that they have had to take second or third jobs to make ends meet in Santa Barbara. Adriansen herself lived in Santa Barbara for more than 40 years, but “couldn’t afford to stay here.” 

“I have to commute out from Buellton,” she said. “And I’m at the top of the pay scale for the Santa Barbara School District.”  

Amy Woods, a faculty member at La Colina Junior High School, said that when she first began her career in 2003, new teachers started at around $40,000 a year, rent for a one-bedroom apartment was around $1,000 a month, and health insurance was covered by the district. 

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In comparison, in 2023, Wood continued, new teachers start at around $50,000 a year, they pay a minimum of $3,500 in out of pocket expenses, and the average cost of a one bedroom is approximately $2,600 a month. 

“If we factor in inflation, this means that new teachers are making less money and paying 160 percent more to live in this town,” she said.

Wood said that teachers in neighboring school districts, such as Montecito Union, Cold Spring, Goleta Union, and Hope, are “making an average of almost $25,000 more a year at the top of their pay scales.” 

“In the past five years, I watched a number of colleagues leave the district due to the low salaries, subpar insurance, and lack of support,” she said.

Although the issues brought up by representatives from the SBTA were not on the board’s agenda Tuesday night, SBTA President Adriansen acknowledged one agenda item, the Student Outcomes Report, in her comment. 

The report on student outcomes revealed areas in which the district has improved, such as increases in graduation rates and UC enrollments since the 2018-2019 school year, but also areas in need of improvement, such as high rates of chronic absenteeism among students. 

“Student outcomes are important. However, a revolving door of teachers because they can’t afford to live in Santa Barbara, not giving elementary teachers adequate prep time to plan, and high caseloads for special-education teachers will not improve student outcomes,” Adriansen said. 

Eric Nichoson, a special education teacher at Santa Barbara High School, said that he’s been working in his role for the last 18 years. “In short, what I’ve experienced is that we scramble every year to fill vacancies in special-ed,” he said. “We get new teachers up and running, and within a few years, they’re gone. At the high school level, staff turnover is especially difficult on the students we serve.”

The board thanked the public commentators for taking the time to voice their concerns. Board Vice President Virginia Alvarez expressed her support, saying her aunt was a teacher and was the one who taught her how to read. 

In its statement, the school district said it “acknowledges the economic factors at play in our area (and much of California), as external forces beyond our control and our limited revenue resources continue to concern all employees. We also note that successor contract negotiations are approaching. We believe those negotiations are the appropriate forum in which to address these challenges and fiscal limitations.

“The district is confident both parties will continue to work together in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. The district is also committed to continuing to analyze budgets and looks forward to successor contract negotiations where wages will be discussed.”

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