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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Voices of the Sacramento teachers, families affected by SCUSD staffing crisis

As the strike organized by the Sacramento City Teachers Association comes to an end, teachers and families share their thoughts moving forward

By CHRIS PONCE  — city@theaggie.org

 

On Monday, April 4, students and teachers returned back to the classroom following a strike in Sacramento that lasted more than a week. The strike, organized by the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU), began on March 23 to protest a staffing crisis of substitute teachers, according to an announcement on the SCTA website

As the strike continued into its second week, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) announced on its website that the school district and the unions had come to an agreement. The SCUSD Superintendent Jorge A. Aguilar declined to make a statement to The California Aggie but referenced the official statement made on the SCUSD website that included the terms of the agreement. 

“The agreements balance the needs of students and employees through the use of one-time funds and ongoing spending that we hope to manage successfully in the near future,” Aguilar said in a statement posted on the Sacramento City Unified School District’s website. “The agreement with SCTA also includes a framework for achieving health care savings by defining how they are defined and applied to bring equitable learning opportunities for our students.”

The negotiations resulted in a victory for the unions. According to the school board, the agreement includes a 4% salary increase and a 3% one-time stipend to respond to employee compensation. There was also an increase in composition for substitute teachers. This includes an additional 14 days of sick leave for teachers absent because of COVID-19 reasons. Substitute teachers who filled in for teachers who were absent during the current school year will also see an increased daily rate of 25%. 

While the strikes have come to an end, a lingering feeling of distrust has been left on teachers in Sacramento against the school board and superintendent. Kara Synhorst, a high school English teacher at Luther Burbank High School, was regularly involved in the strikes and picketed at her school every morning. She mentioned that while the healthcare demands by the union would not necessarily affect her directly, she still went on strike for those who are affected.

“I have Kaiser, not HealthNet (the health plan that would have cost teachers a lot more out of pocket), and I’m at the top of the pay scale after having taught for 22 years, so striking for *myself* wasn’t really at the top of my priority list,” Synhorst said via Facebook Messenger. “But knowing that we are continually short of custodians, campus monitors and bus drivers, as well as the poor treatment of the nutrition workers in the cafeteria really strengthened my resolve to see this through to the end.”

Synhorst is pleased with the agreement made between SCTA, SEIU and the school district. However, she is still skeptical about the school district and those in charge. She worries a new contract will have to be made in the future and is also concerned about how the school will make up the eight days lost to the strike. Synhorst has been greatly affected by the strike and is proud of the work she did. 

“The strike affected me both negatively and positively,” Synhorst said. “I missed my students, and the days that were lost were part of important preparation time for my students and their upcoming IB exams. I also will lose a decent chunk of money, most likely. But on the other hand, I knew all along that I was doing the right thing and acting in accordance with my principles.”

Leslie Stair, a parent of a teenager attending a Sacramento High School and the spouse of a special education and special day class high school teacher, has also spoken out about the strikes. Stair is very involved with the education community, having worked with families for over 20 years. She also works as a substitute assist at a preschool. Stair spoke about the cruciality of the strike. 

“This strike seemed pressing and necessary considering that teachers have not had a contract for so long, since the previous one that was signed a few years ago was basically taken back by [the superintendent],” Stair said. “I’m still unclear about the justification for that.” 

She continued to express how she felt ignored by the school district and the superintendent.

“The strike seemed completely necessary to get any response from [the] [superintendent],” Stair said. “It is very telling, I think.”

Stair felt that the strike was very revealing about the nature of the Sacramento City Unified School District and the superintendent. She spoke about carelessness on behalf of the school board. 

“During the strike, the [superintendent] and board showed their true colors,” Stair said. “Manipulating data, misleading parents with emails only showing their side of things, banning teachers from commenting on public forums on social media, demonizing teachers constantly and simply not showing up hardly at all during the negotiations.”

Stair is not the only person who feels wronged by the superintendent and school board. Ashley Penny expressed how her family was personally affected by the school board.

“My husband and I just had our second baby,” Penny said. “I am on maternity leave and teachers have to pay for their sub when they are in leave. That cuts my paycheck in half and then my husband was not paid for the time he had to strike. It was a huge financial burden that we weren’t expecting. I think that the superintendent should know the struggle he created for many families that were already recovering from COVID-19.”

Written by: Chris Ponce — city@theaggie.org

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