Ventura teachers protest, negotiate and dispute over one percent raise

Avery Cameron

“If you want s***** teachers to do this, give s***** pay. If you want teachers who give a d*** and are here for the kids and work hard, pay more,” said an anonymous Ventura Unified Student District teacher

On Aug. 23, Ventura Unified School District employees gathered for VUSD’s annual Welcome Back Celebration. While the event was intended to celebrate the new school year, many VUSD employees wore red in order to protest their pay raise of one percent, although VUSD received a 14 percent budget increase.

On arrival, Ventura Unified Education Association [VUEA] members passed out red posters which said, “We LOVE the kids, For ALL we’re worth,” “Financial Stability = Emotional Health,” and more. 

Ray Stevens, a VUSD teacher at Portola Elementary, wore red at the celebration. She said, “[I’m wearing red] because the district is offering us a one percent raise which is ridiculous in these times and the fact that they got 13 percent [raised]. So we’re like really? That’s what we’re worth? We’re trying to band together and show support for our students, for our teachers, for our cafeteria workers, for everybody.”

On Aug. 23, VUSD employees gathered for the annual Welcome Back Celebration. VUEA members wore red in order to protest their raise of one percent. Photo from: the VUEA website.

“We’re hoping that [VUSD admistration] get back to the tables and have a negotiation that makes sense. We’d like a 12 percent raise, but they’re offering us one percent. We need [our salaries] to move up and we need it to move up significantly. This is not a time for [administration] to be like teachers don’t matter, we’re dealing with stuff with COVID[-19]. Parents and families are all having trouble with getting back into the school system and the teachers are the ones in the trenches, we’re out there everyday and we’re doing it for the kids they deserve to be paid,” said Stevens.

“Teachers and school staff, dressed in red, carrying signs and banners, chanting and proclaiming their outrage and disappointment at the district’s failure to honor, appreciate and respect their work [at VUSD’s Welcome Back Celebration],” said VUEA Vice President Sebastien DeClerck in a letter to the editor published by the VC Star.[/pullquote]

Gwendolyn Withers ‘25, whose mother works at Ventura High School, passed out posters and wore a red VUEA shirt at the welcome ceremony. She said “[VUEA members are] trying to show [VUSD administration] that teachers need more pay by wearing red. They’re only been given a one percent raise and that barely enough with the inflation going on right now and the district needs to be a little more generous with their funds.”

According to the VUEA webpage “All is not well at VUSD: where we are Fall 2022,” “VUSD has received a funding increase of over 13 percent for the school year 2022-2023 [Summer 2022]. VUSD has offered the workers of the district, both certificated and ESP [Education Support Professionals] a one percent on-going increase and a four percent bonus [Summer 2022].”

“Many VUEA members are angry at the difference between what VUSD has received and what they are willing to provide to the employees. Why are we angry? Inflation has hit all of us. Rents are high and getting higher. Food, gas, utilities: it’s all going up and out of our reach,” according to the site.

“We’re standing with the union because one percent plus four percent minus eight percent inflation is a pay cut and we all need a living wage and we love our jobs,” said a VUSD teacher who prefers to remain anonymous. 

Graph displaying data from teacher salaries from Oxnard and Santa Paula school districts, which have higher salaries compared to VUSD, despite them all being neighboring districts. Graphic by: Avery Cameron

“[The raise is] disrespectful and a slap in the face, after years of COVID[-19] and extra work we’ve been putting in and the surrounding districts getting paid six to 12 percent more. [For VUSD] to retain quality staff you have to have a decent living wage, it is expensive to live in Ventura, and Oxnard is making $109,000 [in] year 10, when VUSD will never get there. Our highest wage is at 20 years which is like $95,000,” said the anonymous teacher.

At VUSD, the highest salary is from a teacher with a “Bachelor Degree plus 75 Sem Units and Master’s Degree,” they would make $98,645 after 25 years according to the 2021-22 Certified Salary Schedule from VUSD. While at Oxnard Unified School District (OUSD), the same teacher with the same credentials and years would make over $14,000 more per year ($112,721), according to the 2021-22 Salary Schedule from OUSD. 

Wages of VUSD teachers range from $49,458 to $98,645 depending on teachers’ highest level of education, and years teaching at VUSD, while at the neighboring district, OUSD, wages range from $53,004 to 112,721.

From a spreadsheet shared by DeClerck, data shows that VUSD has received a “Total Salary  Raise” from 2014-2015 to 2021-2022 of 14.5 percent, while other districts received as much as a 23 percent increase. 

“This [raise] is a f****** INSULT! Our district sees NO worth in its employees who are not principals or ‘higher up.’ I’m disgusted to have worked for this district for the past 35 years. Should have gone to Oxnard when I could have,” said an anonymous respondent from the VUEA Negotiations Survey.

The survey asked one question; “If you had to vote on this today, would you ratify [or accept] 1 percent on-schedule and four percent off-salary schedule?” Out of the 257 VUSD teachers that responded, 249 would not accept, while eight would. 

One anonymous respondent that would accept said, “Health care is very important to me.” Another said, “I have found my salary to be adequate for our families needs. Of course, I would accept more, but I do not feel the demand more at this time.” 

“This is my ninth year in the district. I have a master’s degree in education. I have to work a second job to afford food and a mortgage. I have put off having kids because my husband and I are not sure we can afford daycare and now with inflation it’s even worse,” said an anonymous respondent who would not accept the raise. 

“Teachers and educators make more in other local districts. In our county, there are 12 districts that make more on average salary than Ventura teachers and educators. VUSD is losing good teachers and educators EVERY YEAR to these nearby districts. They pay more and in many cases support the teachers better than VUSD. Many teachers feel trapped in a district that falls further and further behind in salary as costs go up and other nearby districts pay more and provide higher raises,” according to the VUEA website. 

“VUSD received more money from the state in at least two categories: Cost of Living Adjustment: 6.56 percent increase [this is

Graph displaying the percent salaries have increased in Ventura County school districts, Ventura being fourth in the district, with a 14 percent increase. Graphic by: Avery Cameron

on-going money] LCFF [Local Control Funding Formula] Augmentation: 6.7 percent increase [also on-going money],” according to VUEA. VUSD received over $23 million to support cost of living, LCFF and enrollment, therefore VUSD has received a 15.7 percent increase on funding for the 2022-2023 school year, while teachers are only receiving a one percent salary increase. 

“VUEA members want to help kids and families. That’s why we got into education in the first place. Kids need a lot right now, and the classroom teachers and the counselors are there for all kids. However, we can’t help kids if VUSD won’t help us. VUSD has received a funding increase of over 13 percent for the school year 2022-2023 [Summer 2022],” said VUEA.

VUSD held their monthly board meeting on Sept. 13. According to Isaiah Murtaugh’s article “Ventura educators pack school board meeting over pay dispute, living cost increase,”  “[VUEA] estimated more than 200 of their combined 1,600 members attended the meeting.” 

“‘We want to see our employees compensated as highly as possible,’ said [Superintendent Antonio Castro]. From the corner of the room, a teacher hollered back: ‘Then give us a raise!’ The board room, packed tight with red T-shirts, grew noisy. A chant emerged. ‘Help us help kids!’ The room hushed at Rodriguez’s request, but outside, dozens of teachers who weren’t able to squeeze into the room had already picked up the refrain. ‘Help us help kids!’ they called to the rhythm of a tambourine, cowbell and hand drum,” said Murtaugh.

At VUSD’s September board meeting on Sept. 27, many VUEA members spoke out on VUSD’s raise in an attempt to motivate VUSD board members to increase their salaries as they return to negotiations. 

Collage with photos from the Sept. 27 VUSD board meeting. VUEA members wore red to protest. Tim Allison, (top left) is the Executive Director of the Oxnard Federation of Teachers and School Employees. He gave a public comment in support of a higher wage. Photos by: Avery Cameron

Over a dozen VUEA members volunteered for public comment, where they shared their opinions, disappointment and personal impact that the one percent raise had on them.

The first speaker was VUEA president Dan Nelson. He said, “I’m concerned about the erosion of our percentage of salary when it comes to the overall budget. Recently VUSD [has] decided to increase salaries for administrators which I think is a great thing. I want to make sure that everyone knows that we are watching [the budget] very closely, we are not asking for everything, we are not asking for everything the district gets, we’re asking for a reasonable cost of living increase. We are not asking for the moon and the stars. We would just like our fair share and on Thursday, I hope that that is what we meet with when we go into negotiations.”

“During inflation is that [raise] okay? Is that following the golden rule? And knowing were the second from the bottom of all the districts in the surrounding area that get paid the least. Is that how you want to be treated? I’d like to know, do you know the golden rule? And do you follow it? Are you following what we’re teaching our children and our students? Is that what you’re doing right there sitting? Is that the golden rule?” said VUEA member and VUSD teacher Leah Saucedo.

“I implore you to dig deeper into permanent funding and find ways to adjust your salary schedules. We demand to be fairly compensated. I am hopeful for a reasonable offer from negotiations Thursday and please do not make a strike,” said VUEA member and VUSD teacher Kara Miller.

A dozen total speakers took the stand, including DeClerk, VHS teacher Linda Bergfeld and more. To bring a close to the public comments, Oxnard Federation of Teachers and School Employees Executive Director Tim Allison said, “I am here from the neighboring district because I heard that the district was offering a one percent pay raise and I thought it was a typo. I thought something was wrong, that couldn’t be right for a district that has a reputation of respecting its employees. My message here is simple, a one percent offer is an insult. Send a message to your negotiators the time has come to negotiate good pay. Treat your employees with respect. If there’s any good news here it’s that districts like mine might be able to poach your best teachers here but that decision is for you. The time has come for you and your negotiating team to act with deliberation, with respect, with actions and not just words.”

On Sept. 30, VUSD updated their negotiations page with a new offer, “The District has offered VUEA and VESPA members an increase in the current 2021-22 salary schedule by three percent, effective July 1, 2022. The District agrees to increase the salary schedule by an additional three percent of the 2021-22 salary schedule, effective Jan. 1, 2023. The District will continue to pay for the cost of health and welfare benefits for each full-time unit member, up to $19,600, effective the new plan year for the 2023-24 school year. VESPA, VUEA and the District will reconvene negotiations on Sept. 30, 2022.”

VUEA responded to this through their site, “Tomorrow VUEA and VESPA will return to the negotiations table and it will be our turn to counter offer. Today we asked pointed questions about the budget and what looks to us like the missing COLA (6.56 percent) and the missing LCFF Augmentation (6.70 percent). Until our side of negotiations in clear on VUSD budget it is difficult to arrive at a number that is financially feasible for VUSD and adequate for VUEA/VESPA. I’m hoping that we have solid answers tomorrow from VUSD about the budget.”