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Teachers petition for more money

A large contingent of Petaluma City Schools teachers went from the classroom to the board room Tuesday, taking their demand that the district administration resume contract negotiations directly to the school board.

The placard-carrying teachers followed up the first day of the new school year with a march from City Hall to the administration board room where they expressed their grievances to the school board in a polite but emotional manner, with each comment met with enthusiastic applause.

The teachers want the district to resume negotiations that were terminated in July following a dispute over how many members of the Petaluma Teachers Federation would be allowed to sit in on the meetings as “observers.”

“The main purpose (of the demonstration) is to get the district to come back to the table, regardless of who is in the room,” said Kim Sharp, president of the PFT.

The dispute arose at a July 7 negotiation meeting when about 60 teachers showed up as observers. Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Steve Bolman objected, saying the presence of so many observers turned the negotiation session into an open meeting. He said the district is also anxious to get back to the table, but without the observes. “We have offered dates for resumption of negotiations between representatives of the union and representatives of management as we have historically done,” he said.

After the negotiations broke down, the district asked the state to appoint a mediator to help get things moving, but the state rejected the request.

The PFT has lodged an unfair labor practices charge against the district, which has until Sept. 3 to respond, but Sharp acknowledged it might take as long as a year for a decision to be made on that charge.

Once negotiations resume, the two sides will tackle the difficult issue of salary increases. The teachers, who have not had a cost of living increase since 2007, initially asked for a 7 percent increase, but their latest proposal, offered in July before the negotiations broke down, was for a 4.5 percent increase. The district offered a 2.5 percent increase.

Several teachers told the board that they are not being compensated on a par with other districts and meanwhile, their workloads have increased because of the demands of new technology and the new Common Core Standards method of teaching. They said teachers are leaving the district for more lucrative offers elsewhere.

Teacher Doug Emery said the issue was about more than salaries.

“It is about students. It is about the values we teach them. If you value and respect your workers, you pay them accordingly,” he said.

“It is sad to see senior teachers leaving the district because they can’t afford to stay here,” said teacher Lee Boyes.

Bolman said the district is offering what it can afford. “Our proposal was based on the resources we have available,” he said. “Our desire is to have well-compensated teaches, so we can hire and retain high quality teachers for our classrooms.”

The school district is also faced with negotiations with its classified union. A tentative agreement was reached last month calling for a 2.5 percent pay increase, but that agreement was rejected by the employees.

“Lack of funds is not the problem,” said Laura Keaton. “It is the district’s misplaced priorities.

“Because the cost of living has increased, many people cannot pay rent and put food on the table for their families,” said Joao Parreira, a custodian at Petaluma High School.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)

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