“We need a raise, not just praise,” was the call shouted by about 100 educators at the intersection of Wiley Canyon and Orchard Village roads on Monday.
Cars and passers-by honked as teachers stood proudly alongside their children, signs and coworkers outside the Newhall School District’s office to support members of their labor negotiating team while they hammered out the details of a potential contract agreement upstairs with district officials.
The district is offering a 2.5 percent raise, but the most recent budget from Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a cost of living increase of 2.7 percent, said Beth Campanella Judge, a teacher with the Newhall School district for 31 years, during a video of the protest streamed live by The Signal.
“That is not acceptable. We don’t go into teaching to become rich,” she said, adding teachers believe they should be paid enough to be able to support their families without having to get a second job.
Board President Phil Ellis, acknowledging that funding has been restored to 2008 levels, said the board must still exercise fiscal caution.
“We always want to draw the line safely when dealing with one-time money, because you never know what could happen in the future,” Ellis said.
For the last 10 years, school funding saw declines associated with recession-related decreases in state revenue. During this time, Ellis said, layoffs were avoided and teachers still received raises because officials were smart to prepare for a rainy day.
The district hopes to do the same during this summer’s contract negotiations, but teachers cite students’ recent successes in the district as the main reason why they should be compensated with a salary increase of 5 percent.
“We want to make sure we get the raise that is commensurate with all of the work we do in the classroom,” Valencia Valley Elementary School sixth-grade teacher Cynthia Monjoy said at the scene of the protest.
The demonstration comes in the wake of the Castaic and Saugus school districts finalizing new contracts with their teachers, who, like Newhall educators, voiced concerns about pay, benefits and a general lack of support.
The Castaic Union School District approved a raise for its teachers in April that will show up as a 3 percent increase in the salary schedule, a system that calculates employee pay based on occupation and years worked. Castaic teachers will also get an additional 1 percent one-time bonus.
Saugus officials recently approved a 2 percent raise for staff and faculty that will take effect in the upcoming school year, along with a $50 monthly increase to the health benefits cap or a $25 monthly increase to cash-in-lieu for employees who waive medical benefits.
NSD is known as one of the most successful school districts in California, said a statement from Hilary Hall and the NTA negotiations team. The statement said this success is evident in the district’s rising test scores, robust art programs and other indicators often used by officials to determine student success.
“We are in the bottom quartile for the amount of pay that we receive, with our administration in the top quartile,” Monjoy said.
The district is unable to agree to the raises, Ellis said, “because a 5 percent increase would put us in deficit spending.”
Monjoy and other teachers at the protest cited the immense amount of money in the district’s reserve as a source of funds for the raises, but Ellis said the reserves are there for a purpose.
“Because of the reserves, we didn’t have to cut any programs or face teacher layoffs during the down economy,” Ellis said. “The board always tries to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer money and plan the budget very, very conservatively.”
Instead of the NTA’s proposed 5 percent increase, district officials hope teachers agree to a 2 percent salary increase along with a similarly sized one-time bonus, which they believe would be comparable to a 4 percent increase.
This way, Ellis said, “we can certify we will be solvent for years to come and feel comfortable with our offer.” He added, “We always try to squeeze as much as we can for our teachers because we value them so much.”
“We are the top performing district in the valley,” Hall said. Teachers have been constantly reminded about this fact for years and “we are well aware of the numbers and we work incredibly hard to make that success happen.”
Teachers notoriously spend hundreds of dollars from their own paychecks on student supplies, Monjoy said. They create curriculum, work through illness and provide things for the students to meet their needs both emotionally and educationally.
“We care for (students),” Hall said, “at the expense of our own family time, personal time and, of course, our own bank accounts.”
NTA negotiators have told district officials for several years that morale is low and teachers often feel as though their jobs depend on how well students perform, Hall said, “so we kill ourselves to meet seemingly impossible goals in academics,” while also trying to shape students into responsible, well-mannered citizens.
“Teachers are overwhelmed, having health issues and yet maintaining the insane pace and achievement levels,” she added. “We even have a motto: Highest Scores/Lowest Paid.”
Campanella Judge said her health benefits costs $20,799 a year and the district covers $8,054 of this. The remaining $12,745 comes out of her paycheck, leaving her approximately $4,500 a month to support a family of four.
“If we can give teachers a raise, then we should,” Monjoy said, adding they are more than deserving of the highest-possible raise. “Get us out of the bottom quartile to make us feel we are appreciated for having the highest test scores in the entire Santa Clarita Valley.”