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News Update

Thurmond frustrated by continuing Sacramento Unified strike

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond expressed frustration Monday as Sacramento City Unified students stayed home for a fourth day. The school district’s teachers and staff went on strike Wednesday afternoon, calling for pay increases and improved working conditions.

Negotiations between the district and union leaders from the Sacramento City Teachers Association and SEIU 1021 broke down Wednesday night but continued on Sunday, according to Thurmond.

Earlier this week Thurmond proposed that Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar, the district’s school board, representatives of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, the Sacramento County Office of Education and the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, meet with union and district leaders to resolve the strike. Aguilar declined Thurmond’s invitation.

“Because this is a local issue, we do not want to circumvent the appropriate process for reaching agreement with our local labor partners,” Aguilar said in a statement Friday. “That process calls for the district to meet with SCTA to resolve these issues and bring an end to the strike.”

Thurmond said he invited representatives from these specific organizations because he wanted everyone in attendance during negotiations who could answer questions to help resolve the strike. The Sacramento County Office of Education is in charge of fiscal oversight for all the school districts in the county and FCMAT is the state agency that evaluates districts that are financially at risk. One of the points of contention among district and union officials is whether the district can afford the increasing compensation for teachers and staff.

“My goal was to get this thing done so the kids could return to school today,” Thurmond said.

The Sacramento City Teachers Association and school district leaders have been negotiating a contract since early 2019. They also have been bargaining over Covid-related issues for about two years, reaching an impasse in December.

The unions have complained of staffing shortages that have left hundreds of students without a full-time teacher or substitute each day. They say 600 students are on a waiting list for independent study and are getting no instruction.

Thurmond said he was discouraged that the two parties went several days without negotiating, but is encouraged they are back at the table now. He saids he expects both parties would agree to follow the recommendations of a fact-finding report prepared by a panel from the California Public Employment Relations Board if they can’t come to a compromise on their own.

The teachers union has agreed to the recommendations in the report, which include salary increases, retroactive Covid sick pay and a 25% increase in the daily rate for substitutes that was proposed by the district. It also recommends that the district not implement its proposals to offer a long-term independent study program with required instructional time in excess of state requirements, as well as plan to have teachers offer Zoom and in-person instruction simultaneously.

Thurmond, who took part in strike negotiations between Oakland Unified and teachers union representatives in 2019, said he would not be in the room for negotiations in Sacramento, although he would be happy to take part.

Thurmond said that the recent teacher strikes in California reflect what is happening across the country. Most teachers are calling for better compensation and improved working conditions, which have been made worse by staffing shortages, he said.

If the parties can’t come to an agreement, Thurmond said there is nothing he can do legally.

“We will use every tool available to get them back to school,” he said. “This has got to be resolved.”