Threat of Sacramento Teacher Strike Spurs Criticism

Charter schoolTeachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District have authorized a strike, hoping to follow in the footsteps of teachers in Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified and secure substantial raises after a brief walkout.

But in key ways, the dynamics appear different. In Los Angeles and Oakland, the public and the local media were clearly sympathetic. Teachers had not had significant raises in years, and with the cost of housing going up arguably have lost purchasing power in recent years.

In Sacramento, however, the argument that the local school district simply can’t afford raises because of the huge long-term increase in pension costs and loss in state funding because of declining enrollment has resonated far more than similar warnings did in Los Angeles and Oakland. Coverage in regular and social media has repeatedly emphasized three points:

  • The Sacramento City Teachers Association secured an 11 percent raise for most members in September 2017 after threatening a strike. The Sacramento County Office of Education warned at the time that without significant cuts, the district faced fiscal disaster. But the local teachers union has rejected calls to reduce the cost of health benefits that the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) says are the most generous in the Sacramento region.
  • The warning from school officials that even without having to provide new raises, the district faces a $35 million hole in a nearly $400 million annual budget and is on track to run out of money in November. At that point, under state law, the district could seek an emergency loan from the state Legislature, but on the condition that it accept an appointed administrator to make key financial decisions going forward, taking away most of the school board’s and Superintendent Jorge Aguilar’s powers. The primary goal of hose decisions would be ensuring the district pays back the state loan.
  • The fact that the four other employee unions in Sacramento City Unified have sided with Aguilar’s warning that a raise could seal state control of the school district for a decade or more, as has happened in other California districts that have been unable to pay their bills. They don’t buy the teachers union claim that the district has failed to honor the contract it signed in 2017, thus making a strike necessary even though state law says such a strike would be illegal since the teachers are still under contract.

Writing Monday, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton warned the teachers union that it risked disaster not just for the district and its 42,000 students but for a city that has built up civic momentum in recent years under Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

“Sacramento’s efforts to sell itself as a place for companies to invest would be damaged because a major selling point is good schools,” Breton wrote. “How many investment opportunities would be lost if Sacramento became known as the city whose schools were bankrupt?”

Aguilar arrived in 2017 at the district and is given good marks in most circles for his determination to avoid financial disaster. But a FCMAT audit released in December pointed out a vast array of problems in Sacramento City’s management that dated back many years. It cited incompetence and poor communications by the district’s business team and a failure to properly analyze budget data that indicated the headaches to come.

Union leaders say these management failings are not their responsibility and should not be held against their push for better pay.

The union’s hope that a strike authorization vote would lead to new concessions hasn’t happened so far. A union statement said the strike was coming “at a date likely in the next month.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com