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Teachers strike in Cotati, Rohnert Park for higher wages after months of negotiations

Teachers and employees of the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District went on strike Thursday, primarily over wages, after months of negotiations hit a standstill.

A social media announcement posted by the union Thursday reads:

Today over 300 teachers, 100 paraprofessionals, many, many office staff, IT staff, food service workers, custodians, parents, students, and community members are heading to our schools, not to go in for the school day, but to stand up for what is right and hold the picket line until our Superintendent and School Board agree to prioritize those working closest with our students in the budget!”

Over 90 percent of union members voted to authorize a strike on Monday if its demands were not met.

A neutral “fact-finding” body was called in after both sides had reached an impasse at the end of last year. The state-appointed fact-finding report recommended a three-year, 14.6 percent pay increase for the union. The report found that teachers in the school district make 20 percent less than the state average.

The district does not dispute that its teachers make less than in other parts of the state, but says it’s not an “apples to apples” comparison because other districts have more money.

The district said:

The California average teachers salary is $84,659. The increase offered by the Board of Education would increase the CRPUSD average teacher salary to $75,715 starting July 1, 2022.”

During negotiations which began in June of 2021, the Rohnert Park Cotati Education Association had asked for a 7 percent raise for the 2021-22 school year, then 6 percent for both the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years.

In August, the district countered with a 1.5 percent increase in 2021-22 and a one-time bonus of $1,000. Then in September the district raised the salary increase to 2 percent and doubled the bonus to $2,000.

In January, the district further upped its offer to the union to a 3 percent raise, while keeping the bonus offer at $2,000.

The district maintains that the union’s wage demands would drain its coffers to the tune of a $2.9 million deficit by 2023-24.

The school district outlined its reasons for rejecting the union’s demands on its webpage. The board says that by giving the educators the raises they are asking for, it would “risk our ability to provide salary increases for other labor groups, including custodians, paraprofessionals, office staff and other support staff.”

The district also said it would put the district at risk of being taken over by the state:

Insolvency means the State takes over District management and operations.”

According to the district, as of Thursday, all schools in the system are open except for Monte Vista Elementary, which is closed due to lack of staffing.

Schools that are still open are largely operating on “minimum days,” with the exception of Technology High School, which is on a full-day schedule.

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