More than 100 San Ramon Valley teachers packed into the district boardroom Tuesday night to implore the school board to agree to their union's proposal for a 6% raise.
It marked the second straight board meeting with dozens of teachers wearing red in support of their union negotiators. But this time, the turnout was higher and seven teachers addressed the board, sharing their personal stories and insights about why the salary increase is needed.
"This is just the beginning. More will come if things don't change," Allison Sass, French teacher at Danville's Monte Vista High, told the school board Tuesday night during public comment on non-agenda items.
Board president Greg Marvel responded to the teachers by saying the board could not dialogue about the salaries with the attendees that night because the issue was not listed on the meeting agenda and salary negotiations must be done in private.
"What we can tell you is that this board has heard you. Teachers and the rest of the staff in this district are what have made us one of the best districts in this state. We know that," Marvel said in roughly two minutes of remarks after the teachers spoke.
"What you're asking for isn't enough. You deserve more," he added. "But, if we gave you what you deserve, the county and state would take us over, frankly. So it's a reality of the budget situation in this state and the reality of what we get per-student compared to other states."
The school board discussed the employee bargaining talks during a scheduled conference with district labor negotiators in closed session Tuesday evening before the open-session meeting began, according to district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich.
The two sides' offers remain the same as before the board's mid-December meeting, when the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA) had its previous room-filling turnout at which only the union president spoke.
The teachers union has asked for a 6% salary increase, plus a one-time payment of 4% of members' annual salary this year.
The district bargaining team countered with an offer of a 4% salary raise and 2% one-time payment, plus other incentives.
District negotiators think the SRVEA-proposed percentages -- when applied across the board to all employees, as is district practice -- would leave the district fiscally vulnerable in the coming years, according to superintendent Mary Shelton.
The teachers who crowded into the board meeting room Tuesday night disagreed.
They filled chairs, lined walls and a handful sat cross-legged on the floor while others watched through doors from the hallway. The teachers wore red clothing or accents, including "SRVEA Strong!" pins, in a show of unison, and a couple dozen held signs with phrases such as "We will not accept less," "SRVEA strong for kids" and "invest in teachers and earning."
Seven spoke to the board over the course of 30 minutes, some saying they thought the district has the money available to afford the 6% raise and is using budget estimates that are too conservative. Others said they felt bullied or undervalued because of the negotiations.
"We deserve to get a better pay raise. And when you value the teachers, you value the kids. It shows up," said Wayne Gishi, fourth-grade teacher at Alamo's Rancho Romero Elementary. "And when you devalue us ... you're going to end up (not only) losing the experience, the knowledge base, but your future and the future of these kids. And you don't want to sacrifice that."
Danielle Alm, math teacher and department chair at Monte Vista, challenged the notion that local teachers are paid a livable wage to begin with.
"We're relying on teachers like me: You can pay me peanuts and I'm not going anywhere. I love my job and I'll do it as long as I can and I'll never leave this district. Except, I'm getting pushed out," Alm said, citing the struggle of she and her husband to rent an apartment in the Valley and save money despite both working full-time.
"So we get to make a choice: Either I stay here and work for these students, for these families, for the next 10 years and I have nothing to show for it, or I can go to a district that I can afford to live in," she added.
The district's currently salary ranges resulted in troubles finding new full-time teachers at the start of this school year, forcing schools to fill classrooms with rotating substitutes or regular teachers giving up their prep periods, according to several speakers.
"Some people feel like being a teacher is kind of a 'wife job' that you can do if somebody else in your house has a 'good job' -- and it's not," Sass said, employing air quotes. "We are equal breadwinners (or) only breadwinners in our family, so please ... show that you respect us and please accept what we're asking for, the 6% more."
Ann Katzburg, head of SRVEA, addressed the school board later in the meeting during the association presidents' comments period.
"During our lean times, our members did not receive a raise nor did our bargaining team propose an increase because we understood that our district budget could not afford to pay our teachers more," Katzburg said. "But now, the tide has turned ... We know there is money coming in."
"SRVEA's offer is very fair. It's affordable. It is what will attract teachers to our district," she told the board. "We would really appreciate you investing in your human capital."
Tami Castelluccio, president of the California School Employees Association's local chapter, told the board her union of classified workers stands behind SRVEA in its negotiations but noted that her members are upset and think they're "treated differently" than SRVEA and the other classified union.
"The reason we feel frustrated is because although we want to continue to move forward on resolving these issues, it seems that sometimes when we make agreements with the district, we seem to take a step back. We are continually reviewing issues that were already discussed and addressed," said Castelluccio, office manager at Danville's Los Cerros Middle School.
The teachers trickled out of the boardroom as the 2-1/2-hour meeting progressed, but two board members addressed the negotiations toward the end of the meeting during the "board members' reports" part of the agenda -- when two people remained in the audience.
"I appreciate the large turnout tonight," Denise Jennison said. "I believe that we want what our teachers want, and I've never sat on a board that wants more for their teachers than we do."
She added, "I would encourage all teachers to make sure that they are working from factual information when they're making presentations and discussions either at their sites or with other teachers, that we're sure we're working with the right numbers when we are having those discussions. I think it's absolutely crucial."
Marvel also spoke, saying, "We as a board are absolutely committed to doing everything that we can for teachers, but this board cannot -- and I don't believe ever will -- give that which it does not have the resources to give because there is a consequence to that. And that is the county and the state takes you over."
"There is absolutely an enemy in public education," he said. "It's a state that is unwilling to provide a financial and tax structure that gives the students of this state an adequate level of funding for a proper education in the 21st century," he added. "And that's the fundamental issue that everybody in this room should be dealing with, frankly, rather than fighting over the crumbs the state decides to give us."
Marvel wore a red sweater vest during the meeting, a color choice he said he made to show support for teachers and a fiscally responsible raise for them and all district employees. He was the only board member donning red.
The district and SRVEA have two more bargaining sessions scheduled "in the coming weeks," Graswich said Friday. The district and its unions are in salary negotiations for the current school year, as has been their practice, with new salaries to be applied retroactive to July 1.