Kentfield School District faces impasse over proposed salary raises

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Kentfield School District faces impasse over proposed salary raises

Kent Middle School, a school underneath the Kentfield School District, has been impacted by the impasse.

Kent Middle School, a school underneath the Kentfield School District, has been impacted by the impasse.

Kent Middle School, a school underneath the Kentfield School District, has been impacted by the impasse.

Kent Middle School, a school underneath the Kentfield School District, has been impacted by the impasse.

Sydney Hilbush

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The Kentfield School District (KSD) and its teachers reached an impasse on Monday, May 15 for the second year in a row after the teachers’ union rejected the district’s offer of one percent salary raises for next year. The impasse between the teachers’ union and school board occurred when both parties failed to reach a collective agreement, requiring the intervention of a state mediator.

The union, which represents 80 teachers in KSD, was reluctant to settle for a one percent raise as the cost of living in Marin County has increased by 3.4 percent over the past year due to inflation, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

The one percent salary raise is part of a 4.35 percent increase in total compensation (salary and benefits) from KSD as a whole. According to the KSD Board Letter, which was released to the community on May 16, the compensation increase is driven mainly by raises in KSD’s pension contribution obligation, which is mandated by the state, and the “step and column” yearly compensation increases, through which teachers and staff receive higher salaries for each successive year they work in KSD.

“We would still have to dip into our reserves with the proposed one percent salary increase … dipping any further into our reserves would be fiscally irresponsible,” the letter said.

According to Kent Middle School math teacher Brad Widelock, the one percent increase proposal came as a counter-offer to the union’s request for a 4.35 percent increase in salary alone in order to equal the heightened cost of living in Marin.

The front office at Kent Middle School has recently been relocated to the front of campus.

“As long as health care costs don’t rise above 10 percent annually, the district continues to pay for it, so it’s really something that they budget for, and we don’t see it as part of our salary,” Widelock said.

According to the KSD website, a first-year Kentfield teachers pay starts at $53,755 annually and reaches a maximum of $96,407 for a teacher with 25 years or more of experience. According to Widelock, though, this pay is not enough for most teachers to account for the high cost of living in and around Marin. This financial stress has required some teachers to take on second jobs and has played a negative role in affecting teachers’ physical and psychological well being.

 

“We have teachers who are living paycheck to paycheck and are experiencing serious financial insecurity, which is intensely stressful. One percent is just not dignified. Having to work as a teacher and go do a second job undercuts the dignity of [teaching], the perception of who you are and how you see yourself,” Widelock said.

From 2009-10 through 2011-12, teachers in KSD received zero percent salary increases, followed by raises varying from one to three percent. Despite this, at the time of zero percent raises for teachers, Liz Schott, the KSD Superintendent, continued to receive five percent raises annually. According to Widelock, this lack of raise equality reveals the distance between the governing board and its employees.

“They are the governing board, and [making these decisions is] a responsibility they took on when they ran for elected office. I think that they have a duty to make sure that the people who work for them have sustainable lives,” Widelock said. “You can’t turn your back on your employees. They have said that they care [about me] and that’s great and I appreciate that on an emotional level and I have no reason to doubt that at all, but that’s not going to pay the bills.”

Although this one percent increase falls below what teachers expected due to inflation and heightened living costs, the KSD board letter affirmed that the board took a variety of factors into account when finalizing their decision.

“We have two primary School Board responsibilities: doing what is best for all our students and making prudent financial decisions for the short and long-term health of our district,” the letter wrote.

Although the dispute over salary increases played a large role in reaching the impasse, Widelock stated that other factors and unfulfilled requests have contributed to the deadlock.

“It’s not just salary. The largest thing that we have reached impasse about is that we have a desire to have an article on fairness and dignity in our contract. That’s extremely important to us and we are seeking the fair and dignified treatment of all our members,” Widelock said. “It’s far too common everywhere to read about schools going on strike or reaching impasses and thinking that it’s just about money, but this is so much more than about money.”

As a result of the declaration of a district impasse, a state mediator will intervene during the impasse period, which is set at 45 days, according to the Marin Independent Journal. Last year, when KSD faced a similar impasse regarding contracts, the impasse was settled after the second mediation session.

Superintendent Schott declined to comment in response to an email inquiring about the issue on Monday, May 20.