A group of high school teachers stand holding signs calling for better wages
Teachers in the East Side Union High School District rally for better wages outside of Independence High School in San Jose on May 3, 2024. Photo courtesy of Jack Hamner.

Teachers in one San Jose high school district are calling for higher wages to keep up with the increasing cost of living — as the district struggles with an anticipated multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

The East Side Union High School District, which serves more than 24,000 students, is offering its teachers a 1.1% raise for the 2024-25 school year, according to East Side Teachers Association (ESTA), the union representing teachers and other workers. Teachers said the increase is insufficient, causing salary negotiations to stall as hundreds of teachers refuse to work any extra time above contract requirements.

A school spokesperson referred San José Spotlight to a May 2 district message to the community that said it will continue to work with the union as it navigates its finances.

“The District is committed to providing competitive salaries to its teachers and staff. The District relies primarily on state funding to pay salaries and fund operations,” according to the statement. “As you may have seen in recent news coverage, the state has decreased funding to public schools since July’s budget projection by reducing cost of living increases to all school districts and public schools. The District shares teachers’ frustrations with the state budgeting process.”

The negotiations come at a time when the state anticipates upwards of a $73 billion education budget deficit for next school year according to California Legislative Analyst’s Office data, affecting the district budget.

Teachers stand along the curb holding signs asking for better wages
Teachers in the East Side Union High School District rallied for better wages outside of Silver Creek High School in San Jose on May 3, 2024. Photo courtesy of Jack Hamner.

As part of the public school system, East Side Union High School District receives most of its funding from the state through sources based on student attendance and one-time funds, school board President Pattie Cortese said. The district anticipates its reserves to dwindle from roughly $92 million by the end of this school year and go into the red by 2025-26 with an estimated $26 million deficit largely due to the state shortfall, according to district data.

Teachers struggling with San Jose’s affordability such as Becky Hopkins said they need better wages, even with an expected deficit.

Hopkins, an art teacher at Oak Grove High School since 2011, makes about $130,800 annually and lives paycheck to paycheck while supporting her son and 72-year-old mother. She said if her mother didn’t work a part-time job, she doesn’t know how she’d make it, with 47% of her income going to her below-market rate rent.

“Percentage-wise, it’s insulting,” Hopkins told San José Spotlight. “I’m tired of hearing (about the deficit) because it’s never held any water. It’s always panned out that they’ve had more than they bargained for, more than they thought.”

Jose Solis, an English language development teacher who’s worked in the district for seven years, is part of a growing group of teachers commuting long hours because he can’t afford to live in San Jose. He drives to work from Gilroy and said as an East San Jose native he would love to live in the district, but can’t afford a house for him and his 8-year-old daughter. Still, he’s committed to the district.

“There is a point where it’s not really about the money. It’s just about the principle,” he told San José Spotlight.

The prior three-year contract gave the teachers a 4% raise for 2021-22 and 2022-23 and a slight bump to 4.25% for this school year. The base salary of a teacher in the district starts at roughly $69,900, lower than the roughly $75,800 Campbell Union High School District offers, which has high schools in San Jose.

The raises came when East Side Union High School District wasn’t anticipating a roughly $26 million deficit in the coming years. The situation has been further exacerbated by the loss of federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act that funneled down to the state during the pandemic. Those dollars are expected to dry up at the end of this year.

Cortese said she understands teachers’ frustrations and wishes the district could pay them more.

“Do they deserve more money? Yes. Has inflation gone up? Yes. Are they having a hard time making ends meet? Yes, 100%,” she told San José Spotlight. “I mean, it’s so heartbreaking, but that doesn’t mean we have the money to give.”

The teachers union and district are meeting with a mediator, ESTA President Jack Hamner said. Teachers will also hold up signs demanding higher wages before walking into school today, he added.

“We’re trying to do whatever we can to get it done as soon as possible. We just hope that the school district is doing the same,” Hamner told San José Spotlight. “They say they are, but their actions are telling a different story.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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