Teacher contract dispute remains unresolved


Before school, union members gather outside of campus to raise awareness of their unsettled negotiations. Photo by Emily Cowles

Teachers lined the edge of campus at 7 this morning in the now common light green T-shirts, some waving signs and others chanting, in efforts to raise awareness about unsettled contract negotiations.

The demonstration was an activity coordinated by Rocklin Teachers Professional Association (RTPA), and is the union’s latest action after months of meetings and a decision earlier this month to work to contract.

With speculation of a pending teacher strike and inconsistent information circulating between RTPA and Rocklin Unified School District, students are unclear about what’s happening and how they could be affected if a work stoppage takes place.

Students would go to school only to find strangers in every classroom. They would complete a packet of busy work and/or watch a movie. They would show up to an AP class and find out that it’s no longer in session. They would want to go to the Quarry Bowl with friends, but there would be no one to coach the football team, no football, cheer, dance team or marching band. No Homecoming plans to go to Mel’s Diner at midnight after the dance. No one to help you in your most vulnerable state, no one to write college recommendations or give feedback; no guidance at all. All of these are possible scenarios in the event of a teacher strike.

At 7:40 a.m. every day the bell rings for school to begin. This is the time in which students are greeted by their teachers at the start of the day, the start of class. But, every morning, teachers arrive to their respective classrooms at least a half hour before. They spend several extra hours a week, including during lunch, working with students to create the best learning environment they can. So, when they proposed a new contract to Rocklin Unified School District regarding their wages and language and couldn’t reach an agreement, they began negotiating. As of May 10, 2017, the Rocklin Teacher Professional Association (RTPA) and RUSD have been negotiating a solution for the topics most prevalent in their contracts, with an emphasis on key language and a salary increase.  

On Aug. 24, RTPA union members gathered on campus at 4 p.m. in the theater to share updates and discuss their next steps in the process. Members responded to a survey by Google Forms, and union leaders confirmed that the majority of responses favored not backing down.

For the time being, teachers are working to contract. This means that teachers limit their work to the hours designated specifically in their contracts. Doors will be locked at lunch, there won’t be any club meetings or extra help before and after school.They will not be responding to emails outside of school hours, they will post less frequently on Schoology and will not planning lessons.

During a work stoppage/strike, sports, clubs and other extracurriculars would no longer take place. Major events around the school district would be cancelled and administrators or school officials would be forced to deal with the consequences of not having teachers present.

RTPA President Mrs. Colleen Crowe, who teaches at Rocklin, initially got involved when her stipend was cut. She and others have taken on the role of speaking up about their contracts.

“One thing we are bargaining for is the compensation. Two weeks ago, at my site, we had a teacher quit, since she’ll make more money and be closer to home, because she can’t afford to live in Rocklin because we don’t pay very well in comparison to surrounding districts,” Crowe said.

In addition to higher compensation, RTPA included their need for more in-depth safety and special education language in their proposal.

“We want a special ed article; one of the biggest problems in our district is the special ed situation, with support, training and larger class sizes — we need language that protects them. We also need language on safety. We need to know and be trained and have information on what to do if there is an active shooter or a violent student on campus, and how to be able to provide education for all types of students in the classroom,” Crowe said.

Teachers have been in the union since they were first hired and are more involved in the process of negotiations. The bargaining team of the union consists of elected members including the president, and five other teachers ranging anywhere from elementary to high school to include a more diverse group. From there, they meet with the district’s team, and share the allowed information with the greater union.

“The most difficult part of the negotiations has been the lack of willingness to listen or compromise on anything from the district office; most conversations are a in-depth proposal from the teacher side, with a simple one word ‘no’ answer from the district side. Just being treated like we don’t matter, like we’re replaceable, has probably been the most frustrating thing. People move to this area for our schools, and the teachers just aren’t treated with that same level of respect and dignity from their employer,” Mougeotte said.

Although RTPA members believe they have not been fully heard throughout the process, RUSD representatives believe that they have offered a fair proposal in return.

“The district’s latest offer honors the recommendations from the impartial fact finding panel which included increasing the salary offer. We are making necessary changes and reinforcing our existing safety practices as needed for students. Safety and Special Education are, and always have been top priorities. We had hoped the Fact Finding recommendations would provide us with the opportunity to refocus our collective attention back on the students we serve. The bargaining leadership of the RTPA declined that offer,” RUSD Communications Spokeswoman Mrs. Diana Capra said.

At this point, teachers feel a strike may be a necessary step in order for change to happen.

“We are doing this because we think it will create the best environment for our students and we really care about what happens to our students, and that we don’t want to go the route that the district is forcing us to go. We don’t want to have to strike, but if that’s what we have to do to get language that protects the students, we’re going to do that,” Crowe said.

In the case of a district-wide teacher strike, hundreds to thousands of substitute teachers would need to be hired. On average, the daily rate for a Special Circumstance substitute would be $425, while on average, a RUSD teacher makes $456 a day, according to Capra. The district website has a large advertisement on the front of its website to promote the substitute pay and has run advertisements for the past few weeks in the Sacramento Bee and other local media, reaching news outlets as far as Stockton.

Although it’s possible to find thousands of substitutes, Mougeotte feels that it is an ineffective solution.

“The reality is there wouldn’t be enough substitutes to fill up classrooms, and in similar areas that have had strikes, what will typically happen is they get as many subs on campus as they can, and to put it frankly, it’s glorified babysitting. They keep order, but [the subs] are not always necessarily reinforcing an education. Most subs are not certified teachers and they aren’t experts in their area that have connections with students like regular teachers do,” Mougeotte said.

Union members want to emphasize that for any change to happen, the community and students need to be more involved so that information can be shared accurately as questions arise.

“We need the community to let the district office know how important it is to see us as collaborators and not just workers. We are the experts in the classroom, we deal with students on a day to day basis, so we know what they need, and we need parents to support the actions that teachers take to do what’s best for the kids,” Crowe said.

As for the district, they are continuing to look for a solution as they meet in the future so that they can refocus their attention on the students, according to Capra.

For more information on RTPA, there are many different social media platforms to look for. A petition has been circulating among parents and community members online to support the teachers.

“We have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — if not that, talk to your teachers, and again, that’s why it’s important for all of the teachers to be involved so whether it’s students or parents that are curious, those conversations can happen accurately,” Mougeotte said.

To find out specific dates and results of meetings between the district and RTPA, the RUSD website lists detailed information and updates under Negotiation News on the complete process as it continues to develop. The next school board meeting will take place Sept. 12 at 6:30 p.m.