"It is a huge achievement to have come to this agreement," Sequoia District Teachers Association (SDTA) President Edith Salvatore said in an email to this publication Wednesday, Nov. 1. "This is the largest salary increase I can remember in my 27 years in this district, and I am proud that our team and the district were able to work together to bring it to our members."
After months of bristly negotiations and teacher rallies at school board meetings, SDTA and the district have agreed to a new two-year contract featuring a 7.75% raise for 2023-24. Talks are to resume at a later date about an increase for 2024-25.
The union planned to tell its 605 members about the agreement, Salvatore said. The members — classroom teachers, counselors, librarians and other non-management, certificated employees in the district — are scheduled to vote next week on whether to ratify the settlement.
District board President Rich Ginn praised both sides' efforts in finding a resolution. "The board wants to thank the negotiating teams for all of their work," he said in an email.
In a report to its members, the union credited their advocacy for getting the district to reallocate more than $10 million in its budget to make room for the 7.75% increase.
Union members showed up in large numbers to board meetings in person and via Zoom, urging district leaders to bring up pay in line with the Bay Area's high cost of living.
In its report, the union pointed out that it decided to go with the raise this year only while continuing negotiations later for the 2024-25 pay "to ensure that we were able to capitalize on the unprecedented surplus in the district's budget."
Addressing the board during its Oct. 11 meeting, longtime Menlo-Atherton High School teacher Patrick Roisen contended that "the district has a $40 million excess."
He also argued that property-tax revenue has climbed on average about 6% annually for the past decade.
This publication could not immediately confirm those numbers with the district.
"While we understand that it is preferable to know what your salary will be before the (next school) year begins," the union in its report said to members, "the district is generally hesitant to make large commitments until they know for sure what their property-tax income will be for the year, so while we hope we can have answers for next year by June, that will depend on how negotiations go."
But Salvatore is confident about the district's revenue growth.
"We are optimistic that revenues will continue to increase for the district and that we will have productive conversations when we reconvene to discuss next year," she said. "We don't have a timeline for that yet but anticipate we will begin talking in early to mid-spring. We want to have enough time to come to a settlement before the end of the school year, if possible, but also want to give our committees enough time to meet and make recommendations."
In regards to how much of an increase the union could seek for 2024-25, she said, it will review Sequoia Union's budget in the months ahead "and determine what we think is a fair amount that allows the district to continue doing its vital work while giving our members an opportunity to thrive in this area."
Previously, SDTA sought an 8% salary bump for this current year and 7% for 2024-25. The district had countered with 4.75% and 2.5%, respectively, according to the union.
"I want to recognize the contributions of the teams that made the negotiations possible. The board and I are grateful for our dedicated educators and are pleased to have reached an agreement," said Superintendent Crystal Leach.
Salvatore said she appreciated Leach in particular for her role in helping close the gap for this year.
"We are especially grateful to our superintendent, who has only recently found a new assistant superintendent of administrative services/CBO to fill her old shoes and who was instrumental in looking at the budget and finding the money to make this possible," Salvatore said.
The tentative agreement also covers deals pertaining to work hours, transfers, health and welfare benefits, stipends and other labor issues.