More than 50 teachers showed up to a special Newhall School District board meeting on St. Patrick’s Day Thursday evening wearing black, not green.
Ten speakers spoke for two minutes each to fill the entire 20 minutes of public comment allowed, asking for a wage they can live on — not just a raise that’s like a one-time bonus and gone, but a raise on the salary schedule, which would be ongoing. According to several speakers, the last raise in the district was more than four years ago.
Before the governing board could get to the business of the special meeting, which was to accept Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel’s resignation, a brimming room of teachers from all 10 schools in the district had a message they wanted to voice loud and clear, and in numbers.
“I have been making less every year since 2018,” said 21-year Newhall School District teacher Katie Harman to the board from the podium. “This is due to the increase in health care costs and very small increases to our NSD teacher salary schedule. In fact, the last time our teachers saw an on-salary increase was in the 2017-2018 school year. That year we received a 2% increase. In the four years since then, things have changed dramatically. The cost of living has gone up incrementally, housing costs have skyrocketed, insurance costs have gone through the roof.”
Harman added that she pays $1,000 a month out of pocket to insure her family of three, and those costs just increased by $300 a month in January.
“A 2% increase on the salary schedule based on my current salary would not even cover half of that increase,” she said.
According to Pico Canyon Elementary School first grade teacher Shelby Levine in her comments to the board, the district’s offer of a 2% raise earlier this month is an insult compared to what other districts are now paying as U.S. inflation rose 7.9% over the last year, she said, the highest increase since 1982.
“(We) have outperformed our sister districts repeatedly,” Levine said, “yet they received 5.5% and 4% raises on their salary schedule, with one of them also receiving a 1% bonus this year.”
Another teacher, Lauren Boiles, who’s worked in the district almost four years, offered a handout she made to board members, comparing her annual salary of $56,848 — of which $1,000 she earns for having a master’s degree — to teachers in nearby districts with similar years and credentials: the Castaic Union School District pays $1,300 more than the Newhall district, the Sulphur Springs Union School District pays $2,510 more, and the Saugus Union School District pays $10,090 more.
“To quote the second interim budget report that was presented and approved at the last board meeting, ‘It is imperative,’” Boiles read to the board, “‘to position NSD with the ability to provide competitive wages and regular salary increases that increase with cost of living for our staff. This is key to attracting and retaining high-quality staff.’”
Boiles told the board, “I’m one of those teachers you’re trying to retain.”
She then added that her salary falls on column four of five on the NSD salary scale, and that she nets $3,616.54 monthly.
The average two-bedroom apartment in Santa Clarita, Boiles said, costs $2,790 a month. Her health care insurance, which, she said, is one of the least expensive options available and doesn’t include dental or vision coverage, is $1,087.68. And she pays $438.04 a month on her student loan on an income-based payment plan.
Boiles did some math, splitting the apartment cost in half at $1,395 instead of the full $2,790.
“After paying for half the rent,” she said, “health insurance for my family and my student loan, that leaves me with $695.82. That’s $695.82 to pay for utilities, other bills, gas, day care for my daughter, food and any semblance of a life. I’d like to share one other number that many will find shocking. At my husband’s charter school, intern teachers are paid a base salary of $58,850. That’s right, an intern teacher is paid $2,002 more than I am as a fully credentialed teacher with a master’s.”
Outside in the parking lot, before the board meeting began, teachers told The Signal that many of their colleagues are going elsewhere for higher pay so they can continue to afford to live in this area, and others will begin their own searches, they said, for better pay if the Newhall district can’t compete with nearby districts. According to Hilary Hall, a sixth-grade teacher at Pico Canyon, many teachers are just quitting or going on leaves of absence.
That “good schools” perk that lures people to the Santa Clarita Valley and keeps them here could go away because, some teachers said, you get what you pay for. Hall said that if Newhall schools lose their teachers, it’ll be devastating to the district.
Later at the podium, Hall asked teachers to stand if they were living paycheck to paycheck or had to dip into their savings to survive. Every teacher stood. Next, she asked them to stand if they thought about leaving the school district for other opportunities. Every single teacher continued to stand.
Other speakers asked the board how they could give themselves a 5% raise in December but only offer a 2% raise to teachers who work long hours every day, on weekends and in the summer, who have dealt with threats of active shooter violence and have also, on the other side of the coin, been instrumental in sites earning distinguished schools honors.
These teachers, Hall told The Signal, are not even asking for better benefits, just a reasonable raise so they can live in an area that’s growing more expensive by the day. After all that teachers have done, she said, from figuring out online learning and hybrid learning over the last two years, to addressing growing learning gaps, all while maintaining high test scores, if teachers aren’t given what they deserve, they’ll be done.
“Today is St. Patrick’s Day,” another teacher, Melanie Musella, said to the board in her remarks. “It’s a day associated with luck and riches. For the members of NTA (Newhall Teachers Association), however, it is the opposite of how we feel. The staff at your schools were hoping to find the gold at the end of the rainbow this year, but instead we found more disrespect and empty praise.”
Following the public comment section of the meeting, governing board President Donna Rose thanked all the teachers for showing up and for supporting one another.
Rose later told The Signal, “Public comment is on every agenda to provide a time for people to speak directly to the board. We listen, even if we can’t respond during the meeting. The teachers that spoke expressed their experiences, challenges and emotions on the topic of negotiations, and used the process to let the board know how they are feeling. The district is currently in negotiations with the union, so I can’t speak about the current status while we are still in the process.”
Per standard operating procedure, Rose and her colleagues were to discuss the public comments during a closed session post adjournment.
But first, the governing board had to make and second a motion to accept Pelzel’s resignation. They did just that as the sea of black emptied out of the room. And every single teacher did, in fact, wear black, because, Hall said, “we’re not in a sunshiney mood.”