Mount Diablo teachers move closer to strike

One of the largest school districts in the state is now one step closer to a strike by its teachers. 92% of the members of the Mount Diablo Education Association authorized their executive board to ultimately decide in less than two weeks, whether teachers should walk out of their classrooms.  

"We don’t want to strike, but we will, if that is what is necessary to ensure that our students get the education they deserve." Anita Johnson, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association.

A walkout would affect some 29 thousand K-12 students across the district in Contra Costa County. At the center of the ongoing impasse, teacher and staff salaries.

Mt. Diablo educators have not seen a salary increase since 2017.

"Students deserve the best. And the only way they can keep teachers here is to give us a living wage," said Heidi Silva, a 4th grade teacher at Sequoia Elementary. 

The union says the salaries have not kept up with inflation and their salaries are the lowest in seven nearby school districts. They're asking for a 12.5 percent increase over six years, starting back in 2017. 

The Mount Diablo Unified School District has countered with a 7 percent salary increase over 3 years, with a one time 3 percent bonus for the current school year.  

"As an HR professional I know how vital a fair contract is. It is essential to retaining the wonderful teachers we have and bringing in new ones," said parent, Julie Dennler.

The district noted that it recently successfully negotiated a new agreement with its Mount Diablo Psychologists Association. But they say, they simply can’t afford a 12.5 percent raise for teachers, arguing it would force them to cut tens of millions of dollars from other areas of the budget. 

Still, district superintendent Adam Clark made is it clear Wednesday, his negotiating team would be participating in a fact finding hearing with the teachers on Friday, adding. "We are still bargaining in good faith to reach an agreement with the MDEA."

"We’re hoping that they’ll see they really do have the money, and we won’t have to strike," said Silva. She said money given to the school district to help with covid costs has not been passed down to teachers. 

Educators are also calling for smaller class sizes and other investments in student learning. Recently the 4th grade music program was cut.

"That’s kind of disappointing because, you know, music, it’s a good thing for the kids," said parent Narciso Paderanga. "I hope as parents we all get together and get on board and push the school board directors to move in the right direction."

While many district parents appear to be behind the teachers, some say they are still uneasy about the potential for a strike.  

"I can understand the teachers' frustration with what’s going on, however I feel like our poor kids have been through a lot with all the COVID and schools being shut down," said parent, Heather O’Dell.

The Mount Diablo Education Association says if an agreement can't be reached, the teachers could strike as soon as March 28th.