Santa Barbara’s public school teachers are continuing their crusade for higher wages this week, despite unsuccessful recent attempts to sway members of the city’s school board in their favor.
Last fall, teachers from the SB school district began protesting the district’s approval of a 1.5 percent wage increase in their regular pay, asserting the raise did not match the rising cost of living in the area and was significantly smaller than this year’s wage increases for teachers in other nearby school districts.
Since then, the Santa Barbara Teacher’s Association has continued rallying for another increase – most recently at their 200-person demonstration last Tuesday on the streets of downtown Santa Barbara.
However, members of the Santa Barbara School District Board are saying that the recent wage increase is much more complicated an issue than just simply a matter of granting higher raises to public employees in areas with high costs of living.
After the demonstration, the group marched to the district’s school board meeting, where four teachers from the protest gave speeches expressing their concerns about the wage increase. The speakers focused much of their talks on what they called a large discrepancy between their salaries and the typical cost of living in the Santa Barbara area.
Linda Mitchell, president of the SBTA, said she believed Tuesday’s protest was unsuccessful in respect to the teachers’ immediate goal of getting a larger wage increase.
Mitchell said that despite substantial support for the teachers’ cause from many of Santa Barbara’s parents, citizens, and officials, she still has doubts that this week’s protests will be successful in changing the minds of school board members.
“It’s hard to say if it was successful, because we don’t have as many teachers on the board as we would like,” Mitchell said.
However, Mitchell said the SBTA plans to keep rallying for community support about their cause, and will continue to pressure the board for an additional wage increase until action is taken.
In addition, Mitchell echoed the concerns expressed by the speakers at Tuesday’s school board meeting – explaining that the teachers’ protest efforts are primarily a product of their belief that the school board granted the 1.5 percent raise without considering all of the appropriate financial data.
Mitchell said that the board’s failure to consider the rapidly increasing cost of living in Santa Barbara when they approved the increase will have a substantial effect on local educators.
“The board isn’t making teachers in Santa Barbara a priority,” Mitchell said. “When the benefits went up, many teachers in this district took a pay cut. ”
However, Santa Barbara School District board member Annette Cordero said that the issue of funding is exceedingly complicated in public school systems, which creates a difficult situation for the local school board in regards to granting raises to its teachers.
For instance, Cordero said that large disparities in the amount of money the state allots to different school districts has had a negative impact on the SBSD’s finances recently – but the state of the board’s finances usually varies from year to year.
“It depends on the situations between districts on where the funds go,” Cordero said. “Some schools are on district aid and some get enough money from tax dollars that they are not reliant on state funds. Also, schools in other districts have increasing enrollment, while [enrollment in] the Santa Barbara district is declining.”
In addition, Cordero said even the 1.5 percent raise already offered to teachers requires the district to make financial cutbacks from the current budget. She said the board is currently looking for ways to save money other than making dramatic cuts to the budget – but that the needs of the district’s students are the school board’s top priority at this point in time.
Therefore, Cordero said, a large wage increase for teachers would most likely be detrimental to other aspects of schools – like funding for student needs.
“Anything is possible if you are willing to make huge cuts, but that could potentially be bad for the district,” Cordero said “We are always thinking about what can be done financially that is educationally beneficial to our students.”
Mitchell said that though the future of the teachers’ recent efforts is unknown, but the two sides are still in negotiations. For now, the SBTA is focusing on spreading the word about their cause to local citizens and other schools districts, she said.
“We have a crisis team that is letting people know what is going on,” she said. “As far as further action for right now, we are having informational meetings so people are aware.”
While Mitchell said she does not believe it is likely the controversy will be resolved in the near future, Cordero said she hopes that a common ground will be found eventually.
“Most of us, all of us, would like to see that happen sooner than later,” she said.