Sweetwater teachers rally for smaller class-size, fair contract
The Sweetwater Education Association, which represents teachers in the Sweetwater Union High School District, had a rally on Monday, August 17, to protest for what it calls “violations to our contract.”
Teachers at Sweetwater, which includes middle schools and high schools throughout the South Bay, have been without a contract since June 30, 2008.
This year, after facing millions in budget cuts, the school district governing board voted to increase the student to teacher ratio to 30 to 1, something that the teacher union says is unacceptable. That’s, in fact, one of the main reasons the teachers held the rally outside the school district office, in Chula Vista.
“The school board imposed the new student to teacher ratio, ”said Alex Anguiano, president of the Sweetwater Education Association and a chemistry teacher at Hilltop High School.
Anguiano said that in some schools some teachers have overcrowded classrooms, with 40 or more students per class. This, he said, is affecting the quality of students’ education.
“Class size is a big issue,” he said. “Teachers can’t give students the proper attention when you have large classes.”
But Lillian Leopold, Sweetwater communications manager, said that overall teachers still have under 176 student contacts each, as mandated by law.
Nevertheless, in a flyer advertising the rally, the SEA states that “we (teachers) are ‘welcomed back’ to classrooms of 40 plus students and we are well over 176 student contacts, another violation of our contract.”
The signs carried by the teachers and their supporters had a very specific demand: “Respect our contracts.”
The chants targeted the superintendent: “Gandara is anti-teacher, so we’re anti-superintendent.”
In a statement to La Prensa San Diego, Superintendent Jesus M. Gandara, said that the Sweetwater Union High School District is doing the best it can to face the budget cuts.
“I wish I could provide optimistic news regarding our district budget, but I can’t,” reads the statement from Gandara. “We are all doing more with a lot less money. New state budget projections say the district will need to cut another $27.3 million in this current budget year.”
Anguiano said that teachers don’t deny that there’s a budget crisis, but that the district could do a better job of supporting its teachers.
“We accept that these are difficult times for everybody, but our demands are valid,” he said.
The SEA and the school district have been at the bargaining table for more than a year without success.
“The district has demonstrated a complete disregard and lack of respect for SEA, the rules of bargaining, and the current contract,” reads a statement from SEA.
Another issue that the teacher union points to is that new teacher hired after July 1, 2009, will not be eligible for post-retirement health benefits, something that affects future teachers, Anguiano said.
Other issues that the teacher union said remains outstanding include:
- Reopening of discussions about wages if state budget contains additional cuts for 2009-2011.
- Imposition of District’s proposed calendar for 2009-2010.
- Unilateral elimination of an essential Adult School stipend.
- Elimination of “out-of-state” travel as a criterion for extended bereavement leave.
- Establishment of new contract article with respect to District Rights and the expansion of District power and authority.
Gandara said that the school district’s priority continues to be the students’ education.
“We must do all we can to protect our students’ education with the ever dwindling resources being given to us,” Gandara said. “However, I am not willing to make a deal with the union today that compromises our ability to provide for the students of tomorrow—in effect, that is just what the union is asking me and the board to do.”