United Educators of San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District have met more than 10 times since bargaining began in March, but negotiators haven’t reached an agreement. UESF members are demanding pay raises, more flexible sick day policies, and smaller class sizes.

“The starting salary for a paraeducator in San Francisco is a pitiful $18.70 per hour,” UESF President Cassondra Curiel wrote in a newspaper column as contract talks were starting. “These are trained professionals who are only making $14,500 annually.”

SFUSD implemented a 6% raise for educators this academic year, and the Board of Education and UESF unanimously approved a one-time retention bonus of $1,550 in May for about 1,600 paras.

Teanna Tillery, the vice president of UESF paras, said the bonuses are a step in the right direction to address ongoing staffing shortages.

“We appreciate the Board working with us to address the challenges our paras face,” Tillery said. “We are living paycheck to paycheck in one of the most expensive cities in the world.”

Funds for the bonus are coming from a $3 million grant via the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families, a foundation dedicated to improving San Francisco schools. The Board of Supervisors authorized the grant and earmarked it specifically for the paras’ retention stipend.

“No para should make less than $30 an hour. That’s our new floor,” Tillery said. “There are about 200 vacancies in S.F. Unified, and it’s hard to fill those positions when you don’t offer a livable wage.”

UESF also wants to revamp longevity bonuses. Currently, employees with ten years or more seniority receive an additional thirty cents an hour. That rate was set in 1995. The union is proposing a 5% bonus for employees with five years, 10% for those with ten years, 15% percent for fifteen years, and 20% for twenty years.

The last strike by public school staff in San Francisco was more than forty years ago. UESF Vice President Frank Lara said they would like to avoid a strike shutting down classes.

“We do not take such action lightly.”

That hasn’t stopped educators from picketing at various school sites. In May, 160 union leaders from more than eighty schools attended a strike training session. The UESF bargaining team briefed participants on the status of negotiations. Parents and students have also voiced their concerns at Board of Education meetings, often in tears when describing poor learning conditions.

One of the thorniest issues on the table is an administration plan to consolidate grades into one large class. The district claims the consolidation is necessary due to declining enrollment, but rejected a union proposal to give preferential enrollment to children of teachers at the school where the parent works.

The union said it was “surprised to see the district reject this proposal. It could only improve student enrollment.” 

By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter