Teachable Moment

Petaluma Federation of Teachers makes case for higher wages

Petaluma teachers are ramping up efforts to try and push the Petaluma City School district to increase their pay, seven years after the district froze cost-of-living adjustments at the outset of the Great Recession.

There’s a big meeting on Thursday, at the Woman’s Club Building on B Street in Petaluma. Teachers and others will take their case before the North Bay Workers’ Rights Board. The goal is to try and kick-start contract negotiations that stalled in July, and going before the board puts this issue, and the teachers, within the larger “Jobs with Justice” movement in the North Bay.

Educators, parents, students and leaders from the local and state teachers’ union—and, perhaps, the elected Petaluma school board, which has been invited—will come before the workers’ rights board to make the argument about why they need and deserve a raise.

Carrie Caudle is an 11-year veteran of the school district who teaches kindergarten and first grade. She’s a point-person in the Petaluma Federation of Teachers’ efforts to get the Petaluma school administration to budge from their proposed 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase (COLA).

Negotiations ground to a halt over those increases this summer. “We went in asking for 7 percent, the administration said 2 percent, our team went to 4 percent, and they came back with 2.5 percent,” says Caudle.

Wages have been stagnant for teachers since 2007, and while Wall Street is now swinging fast and bulbous in the aftermath of the near-total collapse of the global economy, teachers are still struggling to make ends meet.

And there’s a basic question of management-worker equity to consider. According to the three-year contract signed in 2012 and reviewed by the Debriefer this week, the superintendent of Petaluma City Schools’ base pay is $162,000 a year.

By contrast, according to a union contract spreadsheet dated July, 2013, teachers’ pay in the district ranges from $39,566 to $75,911 (wages are based on experience and longevity).

“It doesn’t seem fair to me,” says Caudle, who insists that the money is there for a cost-of-living adjustment that’s fair to teachers.

“Of course [the administrators] have to look at the budget,” she adds, “but people give their heart and soul to this profession, 50 to 60 hours a week, to serve the children. And look at San Francisco. They’ve offered a 12 percent salary increase to teachers there over three years, and teachers asked for 20 percent. It’s heartening, and yet disconcerting to see that. San Francisco is expensive, but it is also very expensive to live here. What we are asking for is very, very meager—and to ask us to beg for a 4 percent increase, it’s incredibly insulting.”

Contract negotiations were afoot in July, but talks ground to a halt. “An impasse has been declared,” she says. “There has to be a creative way to help teachers meet their needs.”

Thursday’s meeting is open to the public. Doors open at 5:30pm, and the meeting kicks off a half-hour later.