One of the last loose ends from the Sacramento City Unified School District employees’ strike, which ended April 3 and shut down schools for eight days, was tied up today.
The school district unanimously voted to ratify the tentative agreements it made with the Sacramento City Teachers Association and SEIU Local 1021. The school board's vote Thursday was the last needed to make the contracts official.
Next, the district will turn toward addressing — and hopefully reducing — the penalties it received for lost instructional time during the strike, and balancing its budget to ensure it can meet its financial obligations in upcoming fiscal years.
Board member Chinua Rhodes seconded the motion to initiate the vote, saying he was hopeful the board could continue to collaborate with labor partners “for the betterment of our entire community.”
“When communities, or labor partners, or people in general have change done unto them, it’s often seen as violence,” he said. “When they have change done with them, it’s seen as liberation. So collaboration does not come with a relinquishing of our governing authorities — it’s a reimagining of how we govern and how we impact our communities that we care so dearly for, and our employees are part of that community.”
Both unions’ membership have already voted to ratify their respective contracts. The SCTA contract was ratified on April 6 with 98.2% of its membership in favor, while 99.8% of SEIU Local 1021 members voted to ratify their contract April 20.
SEIU Local 1021 president Karla Faucett said in a press release that while she’s grateful the agreement provides some financial relief, the union will continue to advocate for higher wages for the district’s classified staff, which includes instructional aides, lunchroom workers, transportation staff and custodial workers.
“One-time stipends definitely help in the short term, but this District can and must bring up the wages of its lowest-paid workers if it wants to make sure kids get to school on time, have hot meals, learn in clean facilities and get the individual support they need,” she said.
Both the SEIU Local 1021 agreement and SCTA agreement provide wage increases and one-time stipends for workers, among other provisions. The SEIU Local 1021 contract also includes a district commitment to a classification and compensation study, which will study both equity within district wages and wage competitiveness with other districts.
“We look forward to upcoming opportunities … to make working for this District sustainable for its current employees and attractive to new ones,” Faucett added.
At the board meeting, the Sacramento County Office of Education also presented its analysis of the fiscal impact of the agreements. It found the one-time cost of accepting the union agreements is around $44 million, and the ongoing cost is around $15 million.
The district incurred a separate $47 million penalty from the state for the eight instructional days its schools lost during the strike, though it anticipates over $8 million in savings from not paying employee salaries during that time.
“From everything I've heard, I think a fresh start would be very welcome in the community,” Gordon said of the agreements at the meeting. “But our concern is that you were already in a risky position with your budget going into this set of negotiations, and we're simply pointing out as part of our comments that the agreements could increase the district's risk of future financial insolvency.”
If the district doesn’t find ways to reduce that, the SCOE anticipates that accepting the agreements makes the district unable to meet its financial obligations for the subsequent fiscal year.
That’s a “negative” certification, according to the California Department of Education. Twice a year, districts must submit a report of their financial health and are given certifications based on their ability to meet financial obligations.
The best certification is “positive.” After its most recent analysis from SCOE, for the first part of the 2021-22 fiscal year, SCUSD had been under a “qualified” certification, which indicates a district may not meet its financial obligations for the current or two subsequent fiscal years.
However, being in the red isn’t new territory for SCUSD.
Several of the board members acknowledged this during Thursday's meeting.
“This district is as broke as 70% of the folks who live here,” board member Lavinia Phillips said, referring to the over 70% of SCUSD students who come from a low socioeconomic background. “It’s hard to balance a budget when you have a poor district.”
Since its first report of the 2018-19 fiscal year, the district received a “negative” certification. It was only during its first report of the 2021-22 fiscal year that it moved into the “qualified” zone.
“The district’s fiscal condition had improved … as a result of one-time COVID-19 related savings in the current and prior years,” reads the analysis letter from SCOE superintendent David Gordon. “We have reviewed the SCTA and SEIU agreements the district has submitted to us, and we are concerned that the agreements significantly increase the district’s risk of future fiscal insolvency.”
County superintendents are responsible for reviewing and approving all school district budget and interim financial reports, as well as reviewing and commenting on district labor agreements.
As a result of the April 18 “negative” designation, the district must remain under additional oversight from the SCOE through this current fiscal year and the next. SCUSD is the only one of 13 school districts in Sacramento County subject to this extra fiscal monitoring.
Currently, the district is working to reduce the $47 million state penalty, through negotiating with the two unions to figure out a strategy for making up instructional time.
At the board meeting, Gordon suggested three methods for the district to make up its structural deficit: Recovering as much money as possible from that state penalty, cutting expenditures in areas where the district is “overspending or able to do things more efficiently, like the whole area of benefits” and making a long-term plan and sticking to it.
“These numbers are not fixed in stone,” he added. “They may change when we see the May Revise [May changes to the governor’s initial proposed January budget] and the governor’s final budget.”
Additionally, the contracts allow for discussions around wage increases to be reopened in the 2022-23 school year, which could also impact these district budget projections.
Faucett told CapRadio that while SEIU Local 1021’s negotiating team has not met with the district yet, the union has informed the district’s consultant of their need to meet. SCTA President David Fisher said at the board meeting he expected the union’s bargaining team to meet with the district Friday.