Williams teachers poised to strike if contract negotiations fail

With signs held up to East Street traffic, Williams teachers, along with the parents and students who support them, protested last week against Williams Unified School District.

The teachers took their fight to the street over the school district giving a 3.4 percent wage hike to the superintendent, district managers, and classified staff, yet offering the teachers nothing.

“We feel that we are being disrespected,” said teacher David Boswell.

The rally was held Oct. 10 at the same time district negotiators met inside with union representatives at a fact-finding hearing, the last ditch effort by both sides to try and reach an agreement before teachers can strike.

After a lengthy hearing, followed by post-fact-finding discussions, no agreement was reached, said Tony Hermann, Williams Teachers Association president.

“The support of the parents and the community has been overwhelming – a real morale boost to teachers,” said Hermann, a junior/senior high school physical education teacher. “We all are disappointed about not reaching a fair settlement, especially knowing that the district can afford our modest proposal.”

Teachers said they, like the superintendent, top managers, and certificated staff, deserve a piece of the district’s significant increase in revenue from the Local Control Funding Formula, the breakthrough 2013 law that revolutionized how school districts receive and spend state funding, and pours large amounts of cash into districts with high-needs students, namely English language learners, low-income children, and foster youth.

District officials said they couldn’t legally redirect money intended to expand services and improve achievement for high-needs students by paying teachers more for the same level of services.

The teachers union argued Williams Unified has enough base funding to support a wage increase, which is allowed under the LCFF.

The teachers have asked for a 6 percent raise, a compromise from thier original request of 7.5 percent.

The three-member panel engaged in last week’s hearing included a California Teachers Association negotiator, representing the WTA, a negotiator from School Services of California, representing WUSD, and a neutral “fact finder” who will now analyze the facts of the bargaining process and seek to recognize a potential compromise.

A report will be completed and delivered to the teachers and school district by Oct. 25, Hermann said.

Parents at the rally said they are unhappy because the state provides funding for a quality education to Williams students, yet they feel the school district is not doing their part through wage improvement to recruit and retain fully credentialed teachers, while giving the rest of the staff a pay increase.

Parents said the failure of the district to negotiate a fair contract is another threat to their children’s education, some of whom already lost paraeducators in the classrooms due to budget cuts.

“Our teachers need more help in the classroom and we need to keep the teachers that we have here,” said Tammi Smith, a mother of a first grader. “If we don’t start paying them a fair wage, then they are going to leave.”

The advisory report, although non-binding, is the final step in the process.

Hermann said exhaustion of this process without a settlement could set the stage for a possible strike.

“This can only have a negative impact on our classrooms, our students and our community,” Hermann said.

Hermann, along with the other teachers at the rally, said they hope the school board will do the right thing, and make students and their teachers a priority.