Over 400 William S. Hart Union High School District teachers protested over their current contract negotations outside, and inside, the district’s board meeting on Wednesday.
Leaders and members of the Hart District Teachers Association complained the district’s proposal has amounted to “nothing” during recent negotiations. The HDTA negotiates wages and benefits ahead of every school year. For the 2023-2024 school year, the union proposed a 8.22% salary increase, a one-time “off-schedule” payment of 10% and an hourly rate increase to a minimum of $50.82.
The Hart district, according to the HDTA, countered by making a proposal that met none of the HDTA’s demands and offered “zero, zero and zero.” Teachers and HDTA organizers said the district’s proposal was insulting and took to the board’s public comment section to express their disappointment.
Marisa Caldwell, an instructional assistant for special education at Rancho Pico Junior High School, said during the board’s public comment session that since complaining about staff retention, due to pay, in November 2021, only three special education aides remained since then.
Caldwell detailed a story about her working conditions during her comment. According to Caldwell, a student was in crisis for 47 minutes and took three staff members to get the situation under control.
“Thankfully, we were able to help the student deescalate, but let me tell you — those 47 minutes felt like a lifetime when a student is trying to harm themselves, other students and you,” said Caldwell. “We keep our students safe at the expense of our own well-being. We leave at the end of the day with our hair pulled back, with bodily fluids on us with our clothes and possessions damaged, with scratches, with bruises, sometimes broken noses and we come back the next day, and every day, just to serve these students with love and dedication.”
Caldwell challenged the board members to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” before they could determine what “fair pay” meant. Caldwell’s comment, along with other teachers from the HDTA, was met with applause from the many union members in the audience on Wednesday.
Bob Jensen, president of the board, said he was happy to see everyone, including the union’s president, John Minkus, show up and speak on behalf of teachers and that he hoped negotiations with the HDTA would conclude soon. Jensen could not comment on the negotiations themselves, though.
“Negotiations are confidential, but I would like to say that we, as a board, greatly appreciate our teachers,” said Jensen. “They work very hard and are extremely dedicated. We are most thankful for all they do to serve the students and families of the Hart district.”
In addition to the many union members’ comments and Minkus’ speech, 18 teachers were honored as teachers of the year at Wednesday’s board meeting. Minkus’ thanked the district for doing this, but wished they would also honor them by agreeing to their terms.
Minkus said the protest was prompted mainly because of the Hart district’s offer, or lack thereof, but that it also came from the frustration that negotiations were taking place so late. The HDTA hoped the talks would start at the end of last year, but the “sunshine process” took so long that a meeting couldn’t be scheduled with the district until mid-August. He wouldn’t go as far as to say he was optimistic about the outcomes of the negotiations, but did say negotiations were ongoing as he spoke to The Signal.
“Eighty-five percent of our membership, our community members, live in Santa Clarita Valley … we’re part of this community, we contribute to this community outside of the classroom,” said Minkus. “Teachers bend over backwards for all the kids in this valley and I just hope that we can… encourage that they support us in our endeavors.”