Parents, students and teachers march on the sidewalk holding signs
Hundreds of teachers and supporters marched to the San Jose Unified School District office on May 23, 2024 to protest a breach in a contract agreement. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

San Jose teachers are protesting a broken promise made by the largest school district in the city.

Waving signs saying, “Honor Your Commitment,” “Support Us Like We Support Our Students” and “The D.O. needs to Do Right,” hundreds of San Jose Teachers Association and community members marched in solidarity to the San Jose Unified School District office, and more than 600 people showed up for the board meeting on May 23. The teachers union, which represents 1,500 educators at more than 40 schools, is demanding the district uphold a contract agreement reached two years ago to pay teachers more.

During summer 2022, the district and union agreed upon a three-year compensation plan, including raises, for three groups of teachers based on seniority, starting with the newest teachers. Now, officials are saying the district can’t afford the roughly 8% generated by the formula to finish the third year of its contract for the teachers who have taught the longest, according to Kristen Bernhardt, union bargaining chair.

“The first year was focused on years one (through) 10 to recruit and retain teachers,” she told San José Spotlight. “We were losing a lot of teachers in that category, so we put a lot of money there first.”

The district has used a salary formula since 1999 to generate a fair share raise, Bernhardt said in a statement. The formula ensures the district has a predictable and affordable compensation model.

In a letter to teachers and staff, SJUSD Superintendent Nancy Albarran said the district knows the cost of living is high and is committed to reaching an agreement.

“Our goal, working in partnership with SJTA leaders, is to determine the best compensation package we can in the near-term,” she said, “while ensuring that we can produce a positively certified budget. San Jose Unified and SJTA leaders also recognized the uncertainty inherent in our new funding model two years ago.” 

District officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Bernhardt said the district needs to listen to its teachers and try harder.

“We want to work together, but we need a partner who’s willing to listen,” she told San José Spotlight. “I don’t think they understand what a big impact not following the formula has. There’s only so much loyalty you can have to a school district when the school district doesn’t follow through with their agreements.”

Hundreds of teachers and community members showed up at a recent San Jose Unified School District board meeting to fight for teacher compensation. Photo courtesy of San Jose Teachers Association.

As a basic aid district, San Jose Unified receives its revenue through property taxes rather than the state through average daily attendance. Paul Nyhof, union bargaining team member, said the salary formula provides teachers a guaranteed fair share of revenue and the district a predictable cost for teachers. He said teachers don’t understand the district’s claims that it can’t afford to follow it now.

“Property tax revenue has grown,” Nyhof told San José Spotlight. “We’re pulling in more money per student in revenue than we’ve ever had. They’re getting increased revenue while serving fewer students and fewer teachers.”

Teacher Natalie Denike said she’s counting on the salary increase to be able to afford her rent.

“They’re putting teachers who have spent their entire career caring for our students and our communities in a really tough position,” she told San José Spotlight. “I’d like to see us be paid what we’re supposed to be paid.”

Bernhardt said the district is over projecting expenditures and under projecting revenue, especially regarding property tax increases. The union and school district agreed in May to move to bargaining in August. The union wants the district to honor its prior commitment.

“We believe further evidence of the formula’s affordability may aid our conversations with the district once they have the end-of-year numbers finalized for this school year,” she said. “We are not done advocating for the percentage that the formula generated.”

At the district board meeting, Board President Wendi Mahaney-Gurahoo acknowledged the union representatives and teachers.

“We are here to hear the sentiment you want to express,” she said. “We will definitely support you.”

High school teacher Genice Weathers urged the district to fulfill its promise for educators who sacrificed their own raises to attract and retain new teachers.

“Now it’s time for those like me who have been loyal for the longest,” Weathers said, “and sacrificed the most to get the pay increase that was promised.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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