If it’s true that there’s power in numbers, teachers in Contra Costa County are a powerful group. When the teachers from one school in the county felt unheard or inadvertently silenced by virtue of lacking access to the communication channels the district uses to reach all families, they organized and called upon fellow educators from across the county to show up at the Lafayette School Board’s October meeting.
When teachers silently walked into the open-session portion of the meeting backed by nearly 100 educators, union organizers and allies from Richmond, Antioch, Moraga, Orinda and even professors emeriti from UC Berkeley, their message was clear and emblazoned on their shirts: “You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”
California Teachers Association Staff Representative Rosemary Louissaint, who represents teachers in Pittsburgh, Antioch, Clayton Valley Charter, Contra Costa County and John Swett United, was among the supporters.
“I’ve seen this kind of solidarity in other districts before, but this was the first time I’ve seen something like this in Lafayette,” Louissaint said. “East Bay Coalition stands in solidarity and unity with our Lafayette Teachers. We know that the teacher shortage is real. We need to pay teachers the best we can so we can support our families and stay in the profession.”
She added, “We don’t want our classrooms to be revolving doors. We want people to stay committed. And in order for that to happen we need to prioritize our students, and to do that we need to prioritize our teachers.”
On Oct. 13, District Superintendent Brent Stephens sent an email detailing the need for a $1.8 million budget cut over the next three years in order to accommodate a 12% raise for teachers. The message left many people scratching their heads and prompted them to call on fellow teachers from across the Bay to send an undeniable message as they crowded into the Stanley Middle School Library where the board meeting took place.
Lindsey Brown, a parent of two students, marched in with the teachers and made a passionate statement to the board.
“The initial email sounded like it was a done deal and everything was fine, and that turned out not to be the case,” Brown said. “Later on, we got more messages which felt like they were saying, ‘We [the district] are right. And They [the teachers] are wrong.’ To me, the teachers are the heart of the district. Teachers are more important than fancy smart boards or anything else in the classroom.”
Scott Moe, a fifth-grade teacher at Lafayette Elementary School who’s been in the district for 27 years, clarified a popular tagline of fundraising efforts for Lafayette Partners in Education—that classrooms are powered by LPIE.
“Classrooms are powered by teachers and students,” he said.
Moe pointed out at least one important cut that was missing from the email the district sent.
“The list the superintendent sent out was very district-sided, and it didn’t include cuts we’ve made,” he said. “Some years ago, we agreed to a cut in our healthcare coverage. Instead of covering whole families, just the teacher themself was covered. That money adds up over the years.” The cut made on the back of teachers, he said, may be rooted in the hope that teachers will join their spouse’s plan without consideration of single or unmarried teachers.
On Friday, Oct. 27, as children from across the Bay flooded the streets for business-sponsored trick-or-treating, teachers gathered downtown and outside of Stanley Middle School, where negotiations were underway between a mediator, the district and the teachers union. The teachers chanted “Students First” while commuters and passers-by honked and gave shoutouts in support. As this happened outside, Scott Moe sat inside at the negotiating table.
“The impasse process was positive,” Moe said. “In the past, we didn’t feel like we could stand behind the offer made and could not bring it to our members for ratification. This time we did. We feel that we’ve reached a good settlement for our Lafayette Education Association Members.”
In the end, 13 proved to be the lucky number for settling the one-year contract. On Nov. 8, after the LEA members voted, the year-old contract was ratified. And while no party got everything they asked for, there’s a sentiment of relief among teachers that an agreement was reached; they seem happy to have been made “whole-ish” for now.
The new agreed-upon contract recognizes the teacher’s collective years of service in the profession, which impacts the pay-raise schedule for many of them. The teachers union conceded on their wish for more inclusive healthcare coverage, and the district raised their offer from 12% to 13%.
Kristi Gingrich, a third- and fourth-grade teacher and the president of the Lafayette Teachers Association, strongly believes that community support and educator solidarity directly impacted the struggle to arrive at the new contract.
“The misconception was that the contract was for us. It’s really always been about the kids,” Gingrich said while awaiting the ratification of the contract.
When that step was completed, Gingrich said she and many of her colleagues felt incredibly relieved.
“We’re excited to put the negotiation process behind us and move forward,” she said. “We conceded on our plus-one healthcare ask; the district gave us an additional 1% in salary. We feel like our hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. We think having the community and fellow teacher support, and coordinated plans of action and being so organized as teachers for the first time in many years, really helped us.”
She added, “Being united with teachers in other districts and with the community is what helped us move the needle a little bit towards a fair contract. We needed to work together to have a voice and be fair and be strong.”
Lafayette School District Superintendent Brent Stephens says the District is just as excited as the teachers to move forward.
“The 13% raise reflects the District’s strong commitment to our teachers and staff,” Stephens said. “We value and recognize our outstanding Lafayette educators and the many contributions they make to our students’ education. Throughout the bargaining process, the District has appreciated our ongoing engagement with the Lafayette Education Association, the voices of all our teachers and the active participation of the Lafayette community in our public schools.”
The negotiation process for next year’s contract begins in March. Many may be watching to see if the needle towards a fair contract moves even a little further to add in the missing ingredient of more healthcare coverage. Till then, teachers from across the Bay have made their position clear: They are sticking together.
“We all stick together. We’re here to help our brothers and sisters,” Bob Carson, the president of the Antioch Teachers Association, said while standing in solidarity with Lafayette teachers at a board meeting.