Upset about the way the Sweetwater Union High School District has handled contract negotiations, nearly 300 teachers and counselors stood outside the district office in the blistering cold before Monday’s school board meeting protesting contract proposals made by the district.
“Their proposal, we believe, uses unfair bargaining tactics,” said union member and Palomar High School teacher Helen Farias. “It’s a regressive proposal, meaning that each time they put a new proposal on the table it gets worse.”
The Sweetwater Education Association reached an impasse Monday in bargaining negotiations, meaning that the district and the teachers union are deadlocked.
The district, which is the largest secondary school district in California, and the union will now pay for a third party neutral mediator to try to broker a deal.
The district, however, is not obligated to accept the mediator’s findings.
Should the district not accept the findings then the teachers union could vote to strike.
Many teachers held signs that read: “I don’t want to strike but I will!”
Ferias said teachers don’t want to strike but they are committed to getting a fair and reasonable contract despite the financial loss that comes with a strike.
The Sweetwater Education Association for months has been protesting proposals that include no cost-of-living-adjustment — teachers last received a COLA raise seven years ago — larger class sizes and an increase in the amount teachers would pay in health insurance.
John Arguilez, a history teacher at Sweetwater High School in National City, said the school district does not have its priorities in order.
He said buildings at Sweetwater High School are in poor condition and many are left without adequate heating and air conditioning for its students, yet he said, the district wants to spend millions of dollars on a new district office.
“The school district wants to build a $30 million new building, and they promised us to rebuild the schools,” he said.
“So we’re pretty ticked off that they are not taking care of the students.”
Arguilez said his cost of living has gone up in recent years, and wants to see his first COLA raise in seven years.
Arguilez, a teacher for 14 years, said he is also standing up for the way the district conducts business.
“Pay-to-play is not what we stand for,” he said. “We don’t want to see our taxpayer dollars going toward corruption.”
Arguilez said he is prepared to strike.
Otay Ranch High School teacher Ramon Almaraz said the district is neglecting its older schools for newer projects.
He said at Otay Ranch High School there are five teachers with no science classrooms or labs. He also said fire alarms at certain schools don’t work.
“We have a superintendent who makes very bad decisions for the students and the teachers,” he said. “They allocate money for charter schools and other things and they lacked out on their responsibilities at the school sites that they already have.”
“So what I’m asking Dr. Brand and the school board is to do the job they were paid to do.”
Teacher contracts expired in June; however, California labor law requires the district to operate under the teachers’ old contract until a new one is agreed upon.
Sweetwater board members did not return phone calls seeking comment.