Santa Barbara Unified Negotiations

Below is an op-ed submitted to local Santa Barbara publications (the Santa Barbara Independent and EdHat) but they chose not to publish it (as is their right.) Thanks to them for their consideration, but I feel facts like this are important in these conversations and they need to be provided to parents.

Why is the San Diego Schools organization involved? Because every district in the state looks at every other district in the state, and because the unions continually point to other districts who have completed negotiations as examples. This will be one of those examples, and we feel it should be an example of “good governance”, not “business as usual.”

Santa Barbara Unified Labor Negotiations

January 13th, 2024

Teachers are essential to modern society.  Santa Barbara teachers most certainly deserve to be paid fairly for their work. 

Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) is currently involved in negotiations with the Santa Barbara Teacher’s Association (SBTA.)  Although agreement has been reached on some issues, the conflict has reached a point where teachers are participating in a work slowdown, restricting activities unless required by their contract.  School kids are getting involved in the debate, with thousands walking out to back their teachers. 

This raises several issues.  What is a fair wage for teaching in Santa Barbara? is it right to potentially harm the education of kids to increase adult pay?  And is it proper to involve kids in that debate?

We all want to pay teachers well, but financial reality is every dollar put into a teacher paycheck is a dollar that can’t be used to pay support staff, buy new instructional materials, run buses, provide programs for underserved kids, or fund any number of other vital programs and services. 

When weighing financial priorities, we’ve got to put “improving education” first.  The recent release of 2023 Smarter Balanced testing shows barely 50% of SBUSD kids proficient in English and less than 40% proficient in Math.  Every spending decision the district makes has to be considered through a lens of what that does to improve education.

The Economic Policy Institute’s annual study says a fair wage provides teachers “with compensation commensurate with that of other similarly educated and experienced professionals.”  The US Census Bureau provides data we can use to find out what “similarly educated” residents of Santa Barbara County make, and publishes that data by educational attainment.

The California Department of Education publishes data on education levels by district.  The latest data available shows 41.5% of SBUSD teachers have a bachelor’s degree and 58.5% have more advanced degrees.

Weighting the Census Bureau numbers accordingly (and adding to accommodate a teacher’s additional year of training) we see the median county resident with education comparable to a SBUSD teacher makes $87,274.

To look at actual teacher pay the best data source is SBUSD’s own payroll records.  Fortunately we have those, obtained using a legal Public Records Act request and published on the Transparent California website. 

This data shows in 2022 the median total pay of a full-time certificated SBUSD employee was $93,900.  But that doesn’t give us a complete picture of how a teacher’s pay compares to a private worker because it leaves out the contributions made to the teacher’s retirement.

According to Vanguard the average company contributes 4% of the employee’s salary to a 401K retirement account.  Adding a 6.2% normal social security contribution gets us to a total contribution of 10.2% of pay.

In contrast, an SBUSD teacher will have 29.93% of their salary contributed to their retirement this year.  That’s 19.73% more than private workers are given.  If a private worker was so rewarded with contributions to their 401K, over a 30 year career they would likely end up with more than $3 million.  A private worker wanting to fund their own retirement equally would need to make about $110,000/year to match the take-home of an SBUSD teacher.

The SBTA contract specifies teachers arrive 30 minutes prior the start of school.  With the school day starting at 8:30am and ending about 3pm, and assuming the legally mandated 30 minute lunch period, total contracted work hours are 6 ½ hours per day. 

Private industry standard work day is 8 hours, which means teachers have 1 ½ hours a day extra before they reach what private employees just consider “a normal day”.   Is asking them to help kids with that time “unpaid work”, or just part of what their job requires for the salary they’re paid?

The SBTA proposal asks for a 15% raise next year and 8% following.  If we apply this to the current median of $93,900, in two years a private worker will need to make $134,000 to match the income of an SBUSD teacher. 

Past history in California schools has demonstrated increasing teacher pay does nothing to improve education.  Shouldn’t the district be looking at what can be done with our education dollars that would help education rather than helping adults? 

Pandemic-related reductions in education time created huge learning loss.  The work “slowdown” has the potential to do the same.  When did it become acceptable to do damage to our kids for personal financial gain?

Do the kids walking out now know the details of a teacher’s current compensation and work schedule?  Have they asked their parents how that compares to theirs?   

The key question is this.  Do we spend education dollars increasing the size of paychecks for adults, or improving education for kids?

Santa Barbara parents know what they value, these are just facts to help in that decision.  Parents need to decide whether higher pay for adults is more valuable to them than improving the education of their kids.

Joe Biden says “don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.

Todd Maddison is the Director of Research for Transparent California, a founding member of the Parent Association advocacy group, and a longtime activist in improving K-12 education.