Nearly 200 teachers, parents and young children from the Alum Rock Union School District protested at the intersection of Capital Avenue and McKee Road following months of stalled negotiations between the district and the teacher's union.
They called their protest a "human billboard" as they walked in a square along the East San Jose intersection on Wednesday demanding that the teachers requests for more pay, smaller class sizes and more PPE supply for students and staff are met.
The teacher's union and the district are in the middle of negotiating a three-year contract for the 2021/22-2023/24 school years.
Teachers have been asking for a 4.5 percent raise.They have not received a pay increase in the last two years.
The district is offering up to 3 percent of a teacher's base pay citing fiscal concerns.
“Our teachers were generous and accepted nothing last year and so when you factor that in, then there's a desire to say, 'let's make up for what we didn't do last year' and rightly so,” ARUSD Board of Trustees Vice President Andres Quintero said. “Our situation, however, is from the vantage point of... finding out what is the most that we responsibly can provide while maintaining fiscal solvency.”
The negotiations began in February of this year and by Nov. 3, the district officially declared impasse.
“It's been like a slap in the face,” said Jocelyn Merz, Alum Rock Educators Association (AREA) President.
The district's reserves grew from 9 percent 14 percent over the last year, Merz said.
In the last negotiation cycle, teachers agreed to bypass a raise because the district said there were threats of lapsation which is when the state takes over a school district because the district runs out of money.
But with growing reserves, a 5.07 percent increase in cost-of-living adjustment funding from the state and $56 million from COVID-19 economic relief, “we know we're not asking for anything more than we know the district has the funds to pay,” Merz said.
The ARUSD ranks 28 out of Santa Clara County's 34 school districts in terms of starting salary.
“We are in the bottom 20 percent,” Merz said. “And to us it shows that's where the district has placed teachers as their priority.”
Merz, who taught in the district for more than 30 years, said over the last years teachers have struggled to afford living in the district on their salary. But tensions started to rise months into the pandemic when teachers were asked to do more, without additional compensation.
“It's not just about the money,” said second-grade teacher Julia Bargas said. “We care about your kids that we think we think your kids could do anything any other child can do."”
Parents showed up on Wednesday to show their support for teachers.
Natalie Abal, a mother of three children under ten at Ryan Elementary, said, “It's sad to think like some of these teachers that I've seen for so many years, they have been there to support the students is so dedicated, that we could potentially lose them.”
She said she recognized that the lack of investments in education were not unique to Alum Rock, but said in such a historically disenfranchised community, the impacts are greater.
“Our kids are some of the most vulnerable and so their class sizes need to stay small and not increase,” the mother of three said. “They deserve consistency and stability, and they deserve a chance like everyone else, and they just, they deserve a proper education.”
Bargas echoed the sentiment.
"I think Alum Rock gets a bad rep. I don't know if people believe that we are as good as we are," she said. "This is a good place; we are good people."
Jana Kadah is a reporter with Bay City News.