Averted teacher strike leaves questions on future of arts, music programs

Sacramento City Unified School District teachers demonstrate in the days before a potential strike. [Photo courtesy of Christina Martinez]

For weeks, news of a teacher’s strike was on the minds of parents, students and teachers within the Sacramento City Unified School District.

In the days leading up to the event–scheduled to begin last Wednesday–families such as mine were left in a state of uncertainty. Our children questioned whether or not their schools would remain open. Many of us scrambled to work out contingency plans for childcare. We wondered who would replace staff, and whether or not they would have proper qualifications. Discussions of loyalty came up: If we sent our children to school, were we undermining the efforts of educators?

Eventually, word came that an agreement had been negotiated, in part due to the city of Sacramento’s intervention. All parties appeared relieved; you could almost hear the collective exhale.  

The Sacramento City Teachers Association, the school district and Mayor Darrell Steinberg were able to reach a compromise that, on the surface, appeared to be a reasonable settlement for all involved.

But as a product of SCUSD schools, and the parent of a child within the district, my next breath came with questions.

For the past year, as the dispute between SCTA and the district grew increasingly toxic, traces of the conflict began to permeate the public discourse. It was disheartening to see the district’s own Facebook page, followed by students, parents and community members alike, used manipulatively worded posts that sought to paint the teacher’s union in a negative light.

And while I’m genuinely supportive of our teachers receiving the competitive wages they deserve, I feel unsettled in the aftermath of this drawn-out ordeal. The more I contemplate the agreement, the more I wonder if the negotiations were truly a win for all, or rather a public relations compromise made in a climate of increasing tension as the strike date loomed overhead.

In addition to a pay increase and desires to keep health care benefits intact, initial demands included the increase of support staff on campuses as well as revitalization of arts and music programs.

The imminent strike gave the SCTA a mechanism to raise awareness about the lack of extracurricular programs and the dire need for support staff. The city’s solution was an assurance that they would work with both SCTA and SCUSD on a 2020 ballot measure to fund school arts and music programs.

My concern is that the supplemental bond is the city’s way of providing a diluted solution that does not immediately break the impasse, but rather tables the discussion of student services to a later date.

Regardless of the well-intentioned compromise put forth by the city, the bond’s success will ultimately be dependent upon the political and economic climate of an unknown future. Even if the bond makes its way to the ballot in 2020, the funding is not assured, as it will be subject to a citywide vote. We need only to look to the recent fate of Measure G as an example of this uncertainty.

In 2016, Measure G barely missed the two-thirds requirement to pass, leaving our students shortchanged once again. Absent the leverage of a labor strike, will the SCTA be able to sustain the momentum needed to successfully see the measure to fruition?

As the dust settles in the aftermath of the averted strike and stakeholders are able to breathe easier, my hope is that the district’s most vulnerable are kept at the forefront of the discussion.

When the time comes to bring the promised bond forth for public consideration, I’d expect that all involved—SCTA, the district and parents—remain engaged and determined to advocate for the needs of the students.

The city’s proposed agreement validates the totality of the plan and recognizes its importance in making SCUSD a destination district. Now is the time to put aside the combative rhetoric of the contract negotiations and begin working as partners toward implementing a plan that ensures this process does not conclude as a partial, compromised win; but a comprehensive win for students and teachers alike.


Jed Setzer on Email
Jed Setzer
Jed Setzer is a Sacramento native who works as a real estate agent. He is also a bee-keeper, a ceramics artist and a sour beer enthusiast.