Monday's teacher walkout in Union City impacts 11,000 students

The sound of staple guns filled the union hall in Union City Thursday as some 575 members of the New Haven Teachers Association prepare to hit the picket lines Monday in a district-wide strike. 

The New Haven Unified School District spans Union City and part of South Hayward with about 11,400 students. Parents attending a spring concert at Kitayama Elementary School Thursday evening said they are trying to decide what to do during the expected strike. 

"Probably the first day just to show support I won't bring the kids here," said one parent Duru Ahanotu, "But after a while I still want them to continue to come to school.  We still want to emphasize education as priority number one for them." 

At the union hall, teachers say they're disappointed contract talks broke off Wednesday with no deal.

Cynthia Gilmet is a second grade teacher and says she is a single mom with three kids in college trying to make ends meet.

"I cried when I first found out of course, because we love the kids and it's a disruption for them. It's a disruption for us.  It's really tough right now," said Gilmet.

The union says they lowered their request from an initial 20% pay raise to a 10% raise over two years. They say that would cost the district up to $12 million of the $26 million surplus from last year's budget. They also say the district's claim that teachers are among the highest-paid in the county is not true.

The union says starting salary for a teacher is about $74,000, but teachers must pay health care out of pocket.

"I pay $25,000 a year for health care for my family so the idea that we're getting all that money, it's just not true," said Gavin Smith, a Logan High School teacher who has two children in the district. 

"Our teachers all pay for their own health care. So if you minused about $24,000 from the salary, now we become an average salary teacher," said Joe Ku'e Angeles, President of the New Haven Teachers Association.

Angeles said an independent fact-finder during mediation estimated the district could afford a 3-6% pay increase. 

"They deserve a raise, a substantial raise, we just don't have the money to do it," said John Mattos, a New Haven Unified School District spokesman
who says the fact-finding report did not take into account all of the budget demands. 

Mattos says the district offered a 1 % increase, plus a one-time bonus payment of 3%. He says the district needs the $12 million dollar surplus to balance the budget, due to rising pension costs and declining enrollment. He says the district can't use the entire surplus for a raise. 

"We would not be able to balance the budget. Our budget would get a negative certification and we would essentially be bankrupt and there's a possibility we'd even be taken over by the state," said Mattos. 

The district plans to keep all schools open next week, with substitute teachers and administrative staff leading educational activities for the students.