Oxnard’s Rio School District teachers and supporters marched in protest of their school board’s refusal to budge in contract negotiations at the board’s Nov. 1 meeting.
“We’re not treated as professionals and we’re not treated with respect,” said Rebecca Barbetti, the Rio Teachers Association president, as teachers and classified staff gathered in a Vineyard Ave. parking lot on the block across from the school district’s offices.
The teachers’ protest came several days before a Nov. 5 meeting with district officials and an arbitrator to break the deadlock in negotiations. Rio teachers have now been working without a contract for 16 months, Barbetti said.
“They’re more concerned with controlling than listening to possible solutions,” she said, noting that if a settlement couldn’t be reached Nov. 5, negotiations enter a fact-finding stage that could be a prelude to a strike. (At deadline Nov. 6, Frank Wells of the California Teachers Association said progress had not been made, but there were still two more days of negotiations scheduled.)
Joined by parents and representatives of other local teaching associations, a line of people dressed in black and carrying black balloons as well as signs and posters marched back and forth for about 45 minutes as passing motorists honked their support.
As the 6:30 p.m. meeting time approached, the protesters formed a line extending around the district’s headquarters and across the street to the parking lot. At the meeting’s start, protesters marched in single file through the boardroom, past trustees and Superintendent Sherianne Cotterrell.
“Is there anybody who hasn’t walked past the podium, so I can get the meeting started?” Board President Brian Martin asked, drawing a groan from the crowd and prompting Martin to order a recess while the building’s facilities manager checked to see if the room’s capacity of 125 had been exceeded.
“The teachers you see here tonight are the ones who are in front of the classrooms who do the actual job of educating the children of this community,” teacher David Siebler told Martin, Tim Blaylock and Ron Mosqueda, the trustees who remained in the room during the recess. Cotterrell and trustee Simon Ayala stepped out, trustee Robert Guillen was absent.
“Our day doesn’t end with the dismissal bell, sometimes it’s only half over,” Siebler said as he described the conditions teachers have worked with, including overcrowded classrooms, since their last contract with the district ran out.
“These negotiations have dragged on for too long,” Siebler said. “Lift the black cloud from over our schools once and for all.”
After Siebler finished, the protesters released their balloons and filed out of the room, leaving the board to resume the meeting.
Barbetti said the chief obstacle to a settlement has been teachers’ demand for pay raises that would put their salaries on par with other local school districts. Teachers are also concerned that as Rio School District’s attendance grows, it is falling behind other districts whose smaller attendance and bigger budgets draw the most qualified teachers, while Rio has had trouble filling special education positions, said Barbetti.
On Friday Cotterrell countered that she and the school board have inherited a fiscal mess from their predecessors that has forced them to focus on restructuring the district and cutting waste to make it more efficient.
Cotterrell said the district’s offer, a 3.3 percent raise on ratification with annual increases, not only lets it continue offering health benefits she called “a Cadillac plan,” but would put the teachers’ salaries above the median for 12 neighboring school districts.
“I believe health and welfare benefits are truly important. You don’t see many school districts offering full benefits, and we’re offering what we’re able,” said Cotterrell, who said the teachers’ proposal would raise costs 18 percent over the next three years.
But Barbetti said the district’s offer is deceptive precisely because it factors in the full medical and dental coverage offered teachers, which doesn’t require them to pay anything from their salaries.