Teachers Threaten Strike As Students Return to School

San Francisco public school students returned this morning for the first day of the new school year as contract negotiations for teachers remain at an impasse and in mediation with the teachers’ union threatening a possible strike.

The United Educators of San Francisco union is seeking a 21 percent pay increase to cover the high costs of living and working in the city, while the San Francisco Unified School District has offered an 8.5 percent pay increase and to increase pension contributions in the district by 4 percent.

School district officials said they are anticipating total salary and benefits costs for teachers to go up by 18.5 percent over the next three years.

The union and district have been negotiating since February but were unable to reach a new agreement by the time the teachers’ previous contract expired on July 1. The two have held 19 bargaining sessions, with the next mediation session scheduled for Sept. 2.

A strike authorization vote called by the union Thursday was approved by 99.3 percent of union members, but the vote only authorizes the union to call a second vote. The mediation process must be completed with no resolution before the union can legally call a strike.

While district officials acknowledge that teacher salaries have been unable to keep pace with skyrocketing costs of living in the city, they say they have not received enough new revenue from the state to sufficiently raise salaries.

Recent California budget increases for education have bolstered the district’s budget, but so far have not covered budget cutbacks in recent years and funding remains below 2007 levels, according to the district.

California per-pupil spending on education remains among the lowest in the nation, district officials said.

But despite that, the district has maintained seniority-based pay increases annually through the previous contract, raising teacher salaries about 1 percent each year.

According to the union, San Francisco teachers make about $62,000 per year while teachers’ aides earn $25,000 per year on average.

“We are committed to getting a contract through mediation and are serious about seeing the process through,” union president Dennis Kelly said in a statement today. “We hope the district is equally serious about reaching a deal too.”

SFUSD superintendent Richard Carranza said in a statement over the weekend that the district is ready to raise teachers’ salaries but within budget constraints.

“We are committed to giving our employees much deserved raises but we are also committed to being fiscally responsible which means submitting a balanced 3-year budget to the state with a minimum reserve,” Carranza said.

Scott Morris, Bay City News

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