Santa Barbara Unified School District teachers rally | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“Fair pay, teachers stay” was the rallying cry of nearly 200 teachers and supporters lining the streets outside the Santa Barbara Unified School District office on Tuesday 5/9, a precursor to one of two major issues brought before the Board of Education during their regular meeting that evening. 

Once inside the crowded boardroom, educators, led by the Santa Barbara Teachers Association (SBTA), dominated the public comment portion of the meeting. Most pleaded for better wages and benefits so they could afford to stay here. Many said they were now forced to work second jobs or commute from Ventura. 

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

One first-year teacher said their financial worries and workload forced them to experience “full-blown anxiety attacks every week” since they started teaching in the district. Some outright informed the board of their resignation. 

“I’ve been here 33 years,” SBTA vice president and Santa Barbara Junior High teacher Janette Peinado later told the Indy, her voice breaking. “Why aren’t they listening to us and trying to keep us? I’m like, ‘Do you not care if I stay?’”

The union says the district is “in crisis.” More than 100 new teachers and staff had to be hired to fill the positions left by educators who had resigned last school year. Peinado, for one, is retiring early and looking for other jobs. 

When asked about employee vacancies, the district said it is “in the middle of receiving resignations, retirements, and promotions for both teachers and classified staff” and they “do not have the total number of vacancies available at this time.” 

“Like every other organization in our community, we have employees dealing with the cost of living in Santa Barbara. We are in the process of filling vacant positions as necessary.” 

One teacher preparing to leave the district at the end of the school year is Emily Williams, who has worked as a special education teacher for nine years.

SBTA member Joel Block | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“Teachers don’t want to be heroes,” Williams said. “We want to be respected for the professionals we are, and at the minimum, we want to be respected as people.”

To help curb the rate of teacher turnover, the union wants to reopen salary negotiations now, a year before their current contract expires. The 2 percent raise they’re guaranteed next year, they say, will not meet the current rate of inflation nor the staggering housing costs in Santa Barbara.

Although the district has received increased property tax revenues in the past few years — including a $19 million increase from 2021-2022 to 2022-2023 — the district is “deficit budgeting,” the educators charge, saying the district can “afford to raise wages.

“Perhaps the district and the board believes it needs to save for a rainy day,” said SBTA member Joel Block. “I am here to tell you that for teachers … now is the monsoon season.”

Tracy Womack, a math teacher at La Colina, held a sign saying her pay is $20,000 less than Goleta Union and $47,000 less than Montecito Union. “I can’t compete for rent,” she said. 

Boardmember Gabe Escobedo | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Board members expressed support and gratitude for the district’s employees, although the district’s position hasn’t changed. There would be no reopeners on wages or benefits, and they will “negotiate wages and benefits anew for the 2024-2025 school year.”

Boardmember Gabe Escobedo said their housing ad hoc committee has been meeting weekly, and has set a goal: “To build truly affordable employee housing.” They’ll be partnering with the Santa Barbara Housing Authority for planning and examining options, he said.

“Some folks have been serving the district for longer than I’ve been alive,” Escobedo told the crowd. “Teachers like yourselves have played a tremendous role in my life.” 

Later on in the meeting, the board addressed the second important item on the agenda by unanimously approving the adoption of a new science-based K-6 literacy curriculum — the first official adoption of a cohesive English Language Arts program since 2007. They also approved a $1.7 million implementation plan including professional training for teachers.

Monie DeWitt, a parent who had vigorously advocated for the new program, told the board: “I’m really grateful for this change, but I think the teachers are going to need a lot more support in order to implement this. We really need to be sure we don’t lose them, because otherwise the training will be for naught.”

Richelle Boyd contributed reporting to this story.

Santa Barbara Unified School District teachers rally
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