Teachers fight for ‘fair contract’

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Serra Raquel and Kylie Yamada

District board meetings are not events that always draw a large crowd. They typically consist of the district’s seven-member Board of Education going through a list of items which they have to vote on, as well as receiving feedback from the public.

However, the February 21 meeting at Julia Morgan Elementary brought a larger crowd than usual. Some people from the public came in support of a resolution on immigration, but many teachers attended the meeting in support of ongoing contract negotiations.

The social studies department here at Bear Creek organized a commitment to attend the board meeting as a department. They also sent out flyers asking teachers from other departments to attend the meeting in solidarity.

Several teachers did appear at the meeting; at one point, all the audience members held up signs with the words “Class Sizes Matter” and “Fair Contracts for Lodi Teachers.” The signs reference the objectives of the teachers, which include getting classes to smaller sizes and finalizing contract negotiations. Attendees included social science teachers Jason Johnson and Kathy Scott, as well as math teacher Eric Vallecillo.

English Teacher Claudia Mennuti spoke as a member of the public during the meeting. She discussed the issue of the contracts affecting the quality of the teachers in Lodi Unified School District. Mennuti argued in favor of the district increasing teachers’ pay, stating that Lodi Unified is one of the lowest-paying districts in the area.

“Beginning teachers in other districts make somewhere between $666 to $1,284 more than Lodi Unified,” Mennuti said at the board meeting.

Low pay has driven younger teachers away from Lodi Unified, and even experienced teachers have chosen to leave in favor of larger paychecks at other districts. The result is that schools sometimes are unable to find a replacement in the time they have, forcing administrators to find long-term substitute teachers at the last minute.

The effects of this problem has been felt at Bear Creek, such as with the Earth Science position or one of the Spanish 1 positions last year.
The result is that students potentially have difficulty learning what they need to without a properly credentialed teacher and a fully developed curriculum.

“Our students deserve better than revolving door substitutes, especially those who are least able to deal with such upheavals, such as special ed students,” Mennuti said.

Other issues include the length of time the district has taken in finalizing contract negotiations, which is one reason why several teachers attended the meeting.

“We’ve been working without a contract for many months now and [my purpose] was to be there and show my displeasure that we have not reached an agreement for my contract,” science teacher Lauren Fromm said. “Most teachers are working extra hours without pay.”

Mennuti also emphasized the importance of teachers maintaining a voice in district affairs in her speech, which would also bring new teachers into Lodi Unified.

However, the board meeting shifted to focus on other affairs and teachers’ contracts were not given a spotlight for the rest of the night. As of early this month, contract negotiations for Lodi Unified remain ongoing.