Hundreds of teachers protest before Hart district meeting

Members of the Hart District Teachers Association attend a district board meeting with signs advocating for higher pay Wednesday. June 09, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.
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More than 200 teachers gathered outside the William S. Hart Union High School District office ahead of Wednesday’s board meeting, sharing frustration over their salaries.

The teachers, walking around the perimeter of the building and holding signs sharing their message, chastised the district for not giving them raises since 2015.

Members of the Hart District Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association (representing classified staff) attend a district board meeting with signs advocating for higher pay Wednesday. June 09, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

They also noted that they had gone through an increasingly challenging year in 2020 and said they felt unappreciated for the work they put in to learn new technologies and teaching styles in order to accommodate for distance learning.

“I think I work harder than in a regular year because we have to learn how to use technology that we can make a lesson interactive for our students,” said Marielena Arias, a Spanish teacher at Valencia High School. “In the past, you stand in front of the class and you’re done, you know what to do exactly and you know everything. But when you’re teaching with the new technology, you don’t know what’s going to work.”

“It was like starting the first year of teaching,” said Cristina Foster, who also teaches Spanish.

Members of the Hart District Teachers Association attend a district board meeting with signs advocating for higher pay Wednesday. June 09, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Both Arias and Foster said they had not been given a raise since the 1% bump they received in 2015.

Arias argued that she would like to see a 6%-7% bump in pay, a number she says other districts have seen throughout California.

“I’m teaching harder than I did in the last 20-plus years that I’ve been teaching as a teacher in the classroom,” she said. “And so, I think I deserve to be compensated for what I do.”

Members of the Hart District Teachers Association and the California School Employees Association (representing classified staff) attend a district board meeting with signs advocating for higher pay Wednesday. June 09, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

During the board meeting, HDTA President John Minkus said Hart district teachers were being paid under the state average. Using himself as an example, Minkus said that he was in his 29th year of teaching and earning $90,000 annually.

California Department of Education statistics show the state average for the highest paid teachers in a large high school district, such as Hart, is $112,761 in 2018-19. A midrange teacher throughout the state in 2018-19 would make $89,660, and a beginning teacher would make $52,670 annually.

“When people see salary increases for upper management of $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 and even $50,000,” said Minkus, during the meeting, “when we have seen 1% since 2015, when we are last in nine out of 11 comparison categories with similar districts, when our salaries have sunk to almost 12% below the state average, the frustrations come to a head and are getting ready to boil over.”

Members of the Hart District Teachers Association attend a district board meeting with signs advocating for higher pay Wednesday. June 09, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

According to board President Cherise Moore, the governing board members were not allowed to ask questions of the HDTA president following his comment as it was not their practice, but Minkus did agree to continue to speak with board members at a separate time.

As part of a separate discussion of the district’s budget, Ralph Peschek, chief business officer, said an increasing decline in students — the district saw a decline of about 2,182 students between the 2019-20 school year and the 2020-21 school year, with a projection of another 400 leaving this fall — created a significant budget challenge for the district.

“Just a reminder, the budget cycle is ongoing, and at different times of the year we will continue to bring you back, updates and revisions,” said Peschek.

A large portion of a district’s funding is determined by schools’ average daily attendance, or ADA.

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