Sausalito Marin City School District teachers offered insubstantial pay increase for 2022/23, union protests


By Anika Kapan

During the week of May 1, contract negotiations for the Sausalito Marin City School District (SMCSD) teachers finalized a 0 percent salary increase for the 2022-23 school year with a one-time stipend of $1,500, and a 3 percent salary increase for the upcoming 2023-24 school year.

“What they’ve offered us is basically an insult. And they don’t intend it to be. But it’s a way of showing us the door,” Scott Haddad, a fourth grade teacher at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy Nevada Campus said. “It’s asking us to look at greener pastures. It’s asking us to look out the window and see what’s better, because at the end of the day, we have to make a living.” 

The salary contract for SMCSD teachers expired eight months ago, in October. Negotiations between teacher representatives and the SMCSD superintendent, Itoco Garcia, have been ongoing ever since, which is why the initial offer was retroactive. In other words, SMCSD teachers have been working without a contract for eight months. 

Although their contracts in recent years have offered a similar salary increase, inflation and the rising economic recession of the post-pandemic world has made it almost impossible for teachers to continue on their current salaries. 

“For the first eight years or so that I worked at the district, our salaries were equivalent to [schools in] Mill Valley and Tiburon and southern Marin. But our salaries have fallen,” Julianne Edmondson, K-2 special education teacher at MLK Jr. Academy’s Nevada campus, said. 

Edmondson has been working for the SMCSD for 12 years, since before the desegregation order unified the public K-8 Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy in Marin City (MLK) and charter Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito in July 2021. 

As reported by The Tam News in 2019, the California General Attorney’s office accused the SMCSD school board of purposefully segregating the district in a 2013 decision to move BMLK to a campus in Marin City. 

“I worked primarily on the MLK campus,” Edmondson said. “But I used to go over and serve some students at Willow Creek because it became a bigger school.” 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, MLK Academy only closed down for five months before re-opening in September 2020, before any vaccines were available to the public. 

“In the fall [of 2020], we were the only public school that was open and teaching during the pandemic in Marin County. And so teachers, if you think about it, put their health on the line and showed up and taught before there were vaccines, and before there was much knowledge about the virus,” Edmonson remembered. “And now they’re not even offering much of a raise — that doesn’t feel like we’re particularly valued.” 

Edmonson and many of her peers feel that throughout the desegregation and reunification period and the pandemic, they’ve displayed a deep dedication to their schools and students that is not being reflected in their salary offer. 

SMCSD teachers are represented in negotiations by the California Teachers Association (CTA), a nationwide union that represents around 310,000 members, according to the CTA’s website. 

“We pay for union dues $95 a month. And that’s for 10 months. So we pay  — me individually, I pay $950 a year,” Edmonson said. Despite these heavy dues, the union has reportedly done little in negotiations. 

“The union has helped a little bit in negotiations, our union rep. She called in but she wasn’t able to show up,” Edmonson remembered. “We do expect better from the CTA. We think we pay enough to get some representation from them.” 

However, the CTA is helping teachers by creating flyers, signs, and t-shirts. SMCSD teachers are wearing “Red for Ed” t-shirts every Wednesday and hosting rallies and roadside protests in order to raise awareness in their community. Often, they are joined by teachers outside of the district and many parents and students. These rally activities and infographics are sponsored by the CTA. 

Garcia’s contract will expire on June 30, in a “mutual agreement” according to a statement made by Bonnie Hough, president of the SMCSD board of trustees, to the Marin Independent Journal. Although neither Hough nor Garcia would release a reason for his resignation, SMCSD teachers and parents called for Garcia’s resignation shortly before it was announced in a series of letters and petitions to the board. 

“In three short weeks, our district has owned the Marin IJ headlines,” A petition started by concerned parents calling for Garcia’s resignation stated in April 2022. “First due to a $1.6 million shortfall that necessitated eliminating 14 staff positions … Understood to be necessary [due to COVID] or not, this shortfall caught the community and most staff completely off guard, highlighting poor communication by our district’s leader,” the petition, which has since gained 334 signatures, stated. 

Budget cuts and forced resignations have enforced the lack of confidence felt by much of the SMCSD community. Since the reunification, Garcia’s alleged mismanagement of the district funds have left many feeling confused and hopeless. 

“You would think that we would have more resources [since the unification] but we’re trying to figure out where the money went, which is why the superintendent isn’t being asked back,” Edmonson said. “It’s like, well, by reunifying, we should have more money. So what’s going on?” 

The SMCSD board of trustees selected LaReesha Huffman, the current associate superintendent and chief academic officer of the West Contra Costa Unified School District, as the new SMCSD superintendent. Huffman will start July 1. 

“Teachers are the heartbeat of a district,” Huffman said, when asked about the recent controversy. “I’m definitely in support of teachers, and definitely want teachers to get a raise. It’s absolutely necessary. But you also need to look at the numbers.” 

Because the SMCSD is a basic aid district, meaning that its funds come solely from taxpayers with no assistance from the state, the district has less money than nearby districts like Mill Valley and Tiburon.

“[The SMCSD doesn’t] necessarily have all the resources that larger districts have,” Huffman said. “That is something I need to take into consideration. I’ll need to spend some time making sure that the district is still in a good position to be able to operate and give a raise to teachers.” 

Huffman has spent time on both campuses, interacting with staff, students, and parents. 

“Negotiations can be very draining for teachers and for all staff,” Huffman said. “I’m going to continue to have those conversations, and then go from there, I’ll engage with the board, engage with teachers, and then develop a plan based on [where they are in negotiations] by the time I walk in on the first.” 

Because Huffman’s position has not yet started, Garcia is still in charge of contract negotiations, which very well may be finished by July 1. 

“The idea that [Garcia] is negotiating with us while he has basically one foot out the door seems ridiculous to me,” Haddad said. “I don’t think I’m alone in that. It’s silly to have a superintendent making long, far-reaching decisions for teachers in a community he’s not going to be a part of.” 

SMCSD contract negotiations are still ongoing, but were halted on May 24 after the Sausalito District Teachers Association (SDTA) voted unanimously to declare an impasse. If an agreement cannot be reached, the union and the SDTA may initiate the steps towards a strike — the first step being an arbitration, which is a third party investigation meant to help both sides reach an agreement. 

“Nobody wants to go on strike,” Haddad said. “I would say that we have to go through the process and make a good faith effort to negotiate with the school district. 

“And should those [negotiations] prove to be unfruitful? That is a question that we are posed with as a union: whether or not it’s worth it to go on strike.”

Photo by Anika Kapan

Throughout the negotiation process, morale amongst SMCSD teachers has been low. “When [we] can see the salaries that the other districts are being offered, and that we’re not getting offered very much, I think it’s a little dispiriting,” Edmonson said. “Because our salaries are now below these other districts to start, and then we’re offered a lower raise, that just doesn’t really seem equitable.”

However, SMCSD teachers found that their efforts were met with a striking amount of community and inter-community support. 

“The main thing that I found really heartening in this process is that the support from the community and the parents has been just really positive,” Edmonson said. “I didn’t expect that they would be quite as active as they are. And I think that that’s been a really positive thing.”

Negotiations will resume the second week of June, once the SMCSD board looks over the 2023-2024 budget proposal. 

“We want the broader community to bring pressure to bear on the decision makers and help them understand what the priorities are,” Haddad said. “I believe that the broader community does support us. And I mean, we love our parents, and we love our students. And nobody wants to leave.”