Fremont teachers irked over less than one percent raise; strike not out of the question

Teachers in the Fremont Unified School District are at an impasse with their district and showed up in force at Wednesday’s school board meeting. Many of Fremont’s 2,000 teachers held protest signs.

Valerie Hunter is a high school special education teacher. She has 10 students with special needs. Besides teaching them life skills, she at times feeds them and cares for them.

“We are care providers in our classroom to the highest extent,” said Hunter. “I don't feel like we are valued, a half percent raise? It's like a slap in the face.”

Hunter is referring to the district's proposal of a less than one percent raise. The union called it insulting considering the district received an increase of more than three percent in funding from the state for employees’ cost of living. In Fremont, a teacher's starting salary is $65,000. 

“We are definitely demoralized,” said Union President Victoria Birbeck-Herrera. “This is a second year in a row with going months and the better part of a last year at looking at something that's a fraction of percent.”

Tense contract negotiations with teachers is a problem throughout the state. It’s amplified in the Bay Area, given rising rents. 

“The funding that goes into public education is far less than what it needs to be,” said Birbeck-Herrera.

Superintendent Kim Wallace would not comment on negotiations but shared a statement acknowledging the cost of living in the Bay Area is nothing short of astronomical and teachers are struggling.

Wallace also said increasing rates of employee pensions are eating into the cost of living allowance and the district is currently facing a half million-dollar shortfall.

“They’ve continued to say there's a budget shortfall,” said Birbeck-Herrera. 

The union points to senior management raises, which the district disputes. 

As for Hunter, she's now considering leaving her dream profession and getting a job in marketing instead.

“It’s no longer about the students and the needs and their wants,” said Hunter.