San Jose teachers picket amid contract dispute

Teachers from San Jose’s Evergreen School District took to the picket lines Monday. At issue, stalled contract talks with their school district over a host of issues including greater pay. Even before the school bell rang, teachers at San Jose’s Holly Oak Elementary were providing a lesson in the harsh realities of economics.

“Every year it would become worse and worse, and we’d be making less and less to take home to our families,” said 6th grade teacher John Leonard.

Mired in a year-long contract dispute with the Evergreen School District, some of the 540-educators picketed to draw attention to their plight. They’re opposed to a district-proposed zero-percent pay raise, increased class size ratio, and a retroactive cap on healthcare benefits.

“I’ve got teachers that are barely making it right now. And that’s not possible. That’s unsustainable,” said Brian Wheatley, spokesman for the Evergreen Teacher’s Association. Charles Crosby, a spokesman for the Evergreen School District quickly countered, “They deserve everything that they earn. But we’re also facing the reality of a severe budget crisis.”

Evergreen’s impasse mirrors a national movement over teacher pay and benefits. From Kentucky to Oklahoma, West Virginia and now to Arizona, teachers are tapping into the cause of education.

Experts say education funding has long been a problem, because money flows to municipalities and districts that are not equal. That leads to inequities as districts that can afford to pay, drain resources from those that can not.

“Your most highly-qualified teachers are often lured away from the districts in greatest need of them. To serve the children in greatest need,” said Dr. Patty Swanson, chairwoman of San Jose State University’s Teacher Education Department.

“If you look at the school variables that really matter in a child’s education, the one that matters  the most is a highly qualified teacher. And I think it’s time to start compensating teachers,” said Dr. Swanson.

Time to take such action is running out in Arizona. Thousands of educators there plan to walk from classrooms later this week. For the Evergreen district, enrollment has dropped, mediation has failed, and now both sides are engaged in legal fact-finding, a precursor to a work stoppage.

“In this budget environment, we’re actually looking at a number of cuts, around the edges, in places we’re hoping don’t impact the students directly,” said Crosby. “It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around that,” said Wheatley.

All signs are pointing to a strike authorization vote as the next school year gets underway.