Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

A blur of orange and blue signs lined both sides of Santa Barbara Street on Tuesday evening. The cheerful commotion of hundreds of picketing teachers — waving colorful “Strike Ready!” signs — echoed for blocks. 

The energy could be felt for blocks, too. Picketers were all smiles as car horns blared in solidarity. These members of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association (SBTA) gathered in frustration over wages and slow-going contract negotiations with the Santa Barbara Unified School District, but their positivity that evening was overwhelming.

Pins with slogans such as “98% Strike Ready!” alluded to the overwhelming majority of the union that voted to authorize a strike in the fall, should they fail to reach a contract agreement with the district.

Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“Teachers have really been upset with the stalling, and it’s energized us; it’s mobilized us,” said SBTA President Hozby Galindo. “We’ve always been willing to negotiate. But if the district isn’t willing to take the next step, then we’re ready to strike.” 

The SBTA organizing team crafted 450 picket signs. Little by little, those signs made their way into the hands of teachers and supporters and onto the street outside of the District Office, where the night’s school board meeting was about to begin. 

Teacher demonstrations snowballed after an impasse in negotiations was declared by both sides in January, following months at the bargaining table. “It’s getting exhausting,” said Goleta Valley Junior High math teacher Janette Peinado, a teacher in the district for 35 years. 

“I love teaching, and obviously, teachers aren’t in it for the money,” said Peinado, who is also vice president of the union. “But I don’t want to be in a district that doesn’t value that.” 

Teachers are not trying to strike, she said, and she hopes they will not have to come fall. But it depends on whether a settlement can be reached during the last stage of the impasse process, called fact-finding, taking place on Wednesday, June 12. 

During the meeting, each side will present their arguments — SBTA wants a 15 percent raise next year and 8 percent the following year, while the district has offered 9 percent and 4 percent.

“I’ve been in this district so long, I don’t want to just pick up and leave, but it would be a lot cheaper to go somewhere else,” Peinado continued. “Teachers are willing to pay the rent if they feel valued.”

She shrugged, “But when you’re unhappy, and you’re not getting paid, and it’s expensive…. The district needs to show that they value us, and I feel like it won’t matter how much they’re paying us, as long as we’re happy again.” 

Supporters showed up in droves, including students, families, staff, and even some local officials. 

“Aside from parents, teachers are the most important role models you can have,” said newly elected County Supervisor Roy Lee, who has been a familiar face, sporting his orange shirt, at many SBTA demonstrations. “Without them in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So, I will continue to show my support.” 

In a statement, the district said, “We recognize and value the teachers union’s right to use all avenues provided during labor negotiations to ensure they are compensated at the highest possible salary.”

It continued, “We have seen and heard teachers come to the District’s board meetings expressing concerns over the recent impact of inflation, increased housing costs, and the general cost of living in Santa Barbara as profoundly impacting their daily lives. 

“On June 12th, a Fact Finding hearing will be held in which a neutral party reviews the district budget. The process provides both parties with an objective view of what is fiscally sustainable and affordable. We are committed to reaching an agreement, keeping schools open, and letting fiscal facts lead our negotiations.” 

During fact-finding on Wednesday, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., teachers and their supporters will picket again outside of the district office to show solidarity with the union’s bargaining team. 

“We are coming in with a lot of momentum as a union. We’re standing united,” Galindo said. “We feel that we are in a very strong position to have the district meet our demands, and not only benefit teachers but benefit students.” 

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