Contra Costa teachers union prepared to strike over pay, class size

Outside the Contra Costa Office of Education Tuesday, teachers say they've reached a breaking point, battling with the superintendent over a 5% cost of living raise.

Negotiations are set to resume Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. with a mediator. 

"Other districts have already settled for what we've asking for if not more, so for the county to hold out on us like this is unacceptable," said Ken Maffeo, a special education teacher at the Golden Gate Community School in Pittsburg who serves on the bargaining committee, "The cost of living has gone up to the point where we have teachers having difficulty filling their gas tanks."

The county office of education serves special education students countywide who are facing the biggest challenges, severe autism, developmental or physical disabilities, juvenile records.

"These teachers also deal with students who have behavioral issues, extreme medical issues that are very severe," said Rosemary Louissant with the California Teachers Association, "The superintendent Lynn Mackey wants to double the class sizes."

Teachers say expanding current class sizes of six to eight students to a dozen or more will create safety concerns, and already they have problems with teacher retention.

"The court and community schools especially at juvenile hall, they work all year. I believe they got a summer break this year for the very first time," said Ramona Kennon-Frink, a special education teacher.

"Some teachers are having to get two jobs just to you know, manage everyday life," said Christina Morabe who teaches at the county Juvenile Hall.

"I'm single. It's not two incomes. It's just me," said Tera Uppstad, a special ed teacher in Pittsbur.

Uppstad says she is holding down four jobs right now just to survive.

SEE ALSO: Daughter of victim of latest Danville Rolex robbery speaks out

"Door Dash might net me like $100 for 4-5 hours. Well that's my water bill, or that's my garbage bill,' said Uppstad, "Student loans are coming due September 1st. It's expensive to live here."

Uppstad says on top of that, she's had to care for her single mom.

"Her medication was so expensive it was like $700-900 a month. She was making choices between food and medicine. Well I wasn't going to allow that to happen," said Uppstad.

The teachers union is small, just 90 members, but they say they love their students. They say they are rallying, hoping the community and office of education will hear them and try to help.

"Our superintendent has to recognize the fact that we haven't had a strike in this county for well over 30 years and that's because we've found ways to come to the bargaining table and work together," said Maffeo.

The Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Lynn Mackey released a written response Tuesday that said in part:
"I look forward to the mediation scheduled for tomorrow and believe we can come to an agreement that is fair, illustrates how much we value the work of our employees and allows this agency to remain fiscally solvent."