SUHSD and teachers reach a salary settlement, it’s “decent”

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Alexa Vazquez

The sign was only one of the many signs that teachers raised in the air during their protest on March 14. The protest was held in response to SUHSD’s initial 2% temporary pay raise.

On March 18, many Bonita Vista High (BVH) teachers came to school wearing black Sweetwater Education Association (SEA) t-shirts, a form of silent support of their union. That night, Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) and SEA bargaining teams would spend the next 18 hours together, negotiating until they came to an agreement.  

By 2 a.m. they reached a final settlement.

Following a series of tense negotiations and protests from SUHSD teachers, SEA members and SUHSD administrators agreed on a six percent salary increase for teachers. The agreement is included in the two to three year period of their new contract. For the remainder of the current school year, teachers will receive a three percent increase, followed by another three percent increase for the 2022-23 school year compounding off the last raise. Additionally, teachers will receive a one time four percent bonus.

“It was as good as we could expect. It met the requirements in terms of what we wanted, the minimal requirements,” BVH SEA Site Representative and math teacher Aruelio Esparza said. “Our bargaining team was probably very exhausted, but they stuck it out. They got us something that’s decent.” 

Approximately every five years, the state of California raises Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) funds paid to school districtsfunds directed to paying employee wages and other expenses. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, COLA funds offered to SUHSD were reduced significantly. Facing low COLA funds and the pre-existing 30 million dollar debt of SUHSD, teachers recognized the district’s financial hardships and took a two percent pay cut to help. 

Upon recovering from the pandemic and approaching the end of teacher contracts SEA and SUHSD representatives are required to discuss contract renewal terms. Teachers expected a settlement that would give their two percent back, in addition to the typical raise that follows COLA fund distribution. Instead, the district offered a two percent off schedule bonus, a temporary increase. 

“I totally thought it was a slap in the face. It was insulting, because we feel like we’ve done a lot to earn a decent raise,” Esparza said. “SUHSD pulled themselves out of the hole they were in, we knew the money was there. They just didn’t want to pay it forward to us.”

The initial offer stirred a discontent feeling throughout the district, with SEA representatives holding several meetings to discuss their next actions. On March 14, SEA organizers and SUHSD teachers across the district spoke passionately at the scheduled SUHSD Board of Trustees meeting in protest of the offer.       

On March 14, Chula Vista Middle Library
Media Teacher Stephanie Hubner passion-
ately asks the Sweetwater Union High School
District to re-open libraries full time and “give
teachers the raise they deserve.” Hubner was
one of SUHSD staff at the meeting advocating
for greater teacher pay. (Grace Na)

“I felt really frustrated because I’m putting in all this time, all of this energy and I want to see those efforts rewarded. Most of the people along with me that day were feeling low in morale, but we were also standing in unity. We hoped that they would hear us,” BVH International Baccalaureate English teacher and SUHSD Teacher on Special Assignment for Induction Kalie Espinoza said.  

SUHSD stated that they recognize the hard work teachers have put in during the pandemic. Their goal of negotiations this year was to “provide compensation in recognition of that work while maintaining the budgetary health of the district.”  

“It’s part of the negotiations. I don’t think the district was trying to be disrespectful, but it was an expected response,” SUHSD Director of Labor Relations and lead negotiator for the district bargaining team Roberto Rodrigez said. 

Nonetheless, negotiations continued between SEA and SUHSD who, by the next meeting, would not come to an agreement. In the final meeting that followed, SUHSD let SEA officials know that they were willing to stay as long as needed to agree on a final settlement. 

“The district really needed to send the message that we wanted to settle the contract sooner rather than later, to be able to give our teachers the raises that they should get,” Rodrigez said. 

On March 18, SEA and SUHSD met for a final meeting, which went on for 18 hours. The SEA bargaining team sent frequent updates about the negotiations to the SEA Facebook page. This made teachers like Espinoza worry about the possible action SEA would have to take if the settlement was unsatisfactory. According to Espinoza, there were murmurs of a strike. 

When you strike, you’re forfeiting your salary. With the costs of living in San Diego right now, it was nerve wracking”

— BVH International Baccalaureate English teacher and SUHSD Teacher on Special Assignment for Induction Kalie Espinoza

“I was really nervous. When you strike, you’re forfeiting your salary. With the costs of living in San Diego right now, it was nerve wracking,” Espinoza said. “But I was also confident our bargaining team wanted to find a solution. I knew the people on our bargaining team were going to work really hard.”

At 2 a.m. both bargaining teams had agreed on a settlement. On April 20, both SUHSD and SEA held a poll within their respective organizations to determine if the new settlement would be ratified. The vote concluded that the settlement was to be the official agreement for this year’s teacher contracts. According to Esparza, while most teachers agreed the settlement was “adequate,” a minority group asked “why teachers were celebrating” for what they deemed to be a poor agreement. 

Although the new settlement is set to go into effect this school year, Esparza worries that disputes during negotiations will continue to happen. Teachers and staff across SUHSD will continue to push for “fair wages,” even if faced with continuous district opposition.

“Every time we negotiate, it’s the same dance. Just give us a fair offer at the beginning so we can avoid all these headaches and all this tension between SEA and our district,” Esparza said. “They go low, we go high, and we have to make sure they know we mean business.”