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Sacramento Teachers Reached a Contract Deal. They're Still Going on Strike

The Sacramento, Calif., teachers' union reached a contract deal last school year. But yesterday, the union announced that teachers would be going on strike April 11. 

In the contract deal, which was ratified in December 2017, the school district agreed to give teachers a 7.5 percent salary increase, and to generate more money for schools by reducing health care costs. The union wants to use the savings for smaller class sizes and more support staff, but that was to be detetermined by further negotiations.

But the district and the union have not yet negotiated the health plans, so the savings have not materialized. The union also has accused the district, which is facing insolvency, of violating California's open meetings laws and laying off hundreds of staff members in closed sessions, while growing the ranks of administrators and giving those officials large bonuses.  

"This really feels like a betrayal," said David Fisher, the president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, in an interview.

The strike will last for just one day. There are about 2,000 teachers and more than 40,000 students in the district. 

See also: Where Have There Been Teacher Strikes and Protests? (Map)

In a statement, the Sacramento City Unified school district condemned the strike. According to the Sacramento Bee, the district is facing a $35 million deficit and a looming state takeover. 

"This strike is unnecessary and will only hurt students, families, and employees by putting the district on the fast track to a state takeover," the district's statement said. "A state takeover will result in less money for our students and do serious harm to the city's public schools for many years to come."

But Fisher said the strike is purposely only scheduled for a single day to minimize harm to students and out of respect for the ongoing fiscal crisis, which he called "self-inflicted." He pointed to the district's spending on administrators' salaries and bonuses as part of the reason for the budget deficit. For example, the union says the average total compensation for district administrators is $158,702.

Teachers, Fisher said, are furious and disappointed that their contract deal has not been fully honored. 

In a letter to the union, Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said he agreed that more money needs to be directed into the classrooms—currently, 91 cents out of every dollar is spent on employee benefits and salary. (The district has a very generous health benefits plan, according to the Sacramento Bee.) But the teachers' union has not met with the district to negotiate health cost savings after the contract deal was reached, Aguilar wrote. 

There hasn't been a teacher strike in the district for 30 years. The Sacramento strike will follow several other big-city strikes that happened in California and across the country this year: Teachers in Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., and Denver all went on strike and came away with some victories. 

But Fisher said the situation in Sacramento could have national implications for what happens after the ink dries on the contract deal. 

"If a district can just throw up their hands and say, 'Yeah, we know we agreed, but now our budget situation has changed, so we're not going to do it anymore,' that sets a terrible precedent for what districts can do when they sign agreements," he said.

Correction: This article was corrected on April 4 to reflect the fact that the union and the district still need to negotiate to determine how to apply any savings generated by health-care cost reductions. 

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