Months of controversy regarding the Bakersfield City School District’s salary negotiations and decision to cut the summer school program next year came to a head this week.
Hundreds of people, many of them teachers, attended a board meeting on Tuesday to voice their disapproval of the district’s offer of a 2 percent raise for the 2018-19 school year to its nearly 1,500 teachers despite the board approving 8 percent in raises for the district’s assistant superintendents a few years ago.
Teachers and supporters packed the space outside the district office on Baker Street, chanting “fair share” and waving around signs. Many of the attendees wore red shirts or red capes in connection with the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association.
“We will not be bullied, we will not be intimidated, nor will we otherwise be mistreated,” Emerson Middle School teacher David Sandles told the crowd prior to the start of the meeting.
“The district...would do well to remember one immutable fact, which is all power comes from the people. We have the power to make change, and we can utilize that power.”
Parents, teachers and other community members also came to the meeting to share their thoughts about the district’s decision to cut summer school next year due to low enrollment, increasing costs for school services and other reasons.
“Some of our kids only have regular access to meals in the summertime through us,” said Mann Elementary Teacher Angie Estrada. “A lot of them come to summer school because it’s the only place they can guarantee a good meal. Sometimes they bring their whole families in. Where are they going to go now?”
When it came time to head into the board room for the meeting, teachers were in for a bit of a surprise -- the district wasn’t going to allow them into the boardroom, as it was already full of people there for other business.
Teachers were forced to crowd inside the lobby area, with many standing outside unable to even get in the building. Many attendees loudly chanted “Let us in!” as the meeting got started. At one point, the lights at the top of the stairs heading into the building were turned off.
“Basically what they’re saying is they don’t want to hear us,” said fellow Mann Elementary teacher Kyle Johnson.
BETA President Steve Comstock said in previous times when there was a large crowd wanting to attend a meeting, the auditorium in the building would be opened up so people could sit there if the board room was filled. That didn’t happen this time around.
“I gave them a heads up that teachers would be coming. They knew about this well ahead of time, which means they intentionally decided not to open it up,” he said.
A short while after the meeting started, some teachers and other stakeholders were able to come in the boardroom to comment, but just a few at a time. The majority of teachers were kept behind closed doors during the meeting.
One of the people who got to speak to the board was Comstock, who criticized the district for the way he believes it has been treating its teachers. Comstock said the district’s non-competitive pay, working conditions and other factors have led to quality teachers leaving the district.
“The lack of value, the feeling of insecurity, the distrust this district has let fester over the last two-and-a-half years have created a toxic work environment,” he said. “You must remember that our work environment is the students’ learning environment. One cannot be fixed without addressing the other.”
Estrada said the district can take one step in that direction by approving fair raises for the teachers. She said she would like to see a 4 percent raise, which is what BETA is pushing for.
“We’re doing the hard work for our kids. We deserve to be compensated for it,” she said. “It’s not just my pay -- it’s our kids’ future. They deserve to have teachers who want to be there, who are fairly compensated, who give it their all.”
Estrada said she hopes the teachers coming out in force at Tuesday’s meeting will show that they’re serious about getting a fair raise.
“I don’t want to have to (strike), but I’ll do it in a heartbeat if necessary,” she said. “Sometimes that’s the only thing that makes sense when they realize we’re not going to back down.”