Teachers in the Strathmore Elementary School District say they simply want a 5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment the district can more than afford.

The district states it has been more than fair in the offer it has made to the teachers. The end result has been an impasse that has lasted several months.

And the result is also teachers in the district which consists of Strathmore Middle School and Strathmore Elementary School picketing in front of the district office across from the middle school along Orange Belt Drive.

The teachers have been picketing for three weeks from 3:15 to 4 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The position of the teachers could be summed up by one of the signs being held by one of the teachers that stated: “It's hard to teach but it's harder to get COLA.”

Scott Oppenhuizen, the president of the Strathmore Elementary Teachers Association which is part of the California Teachers Association, stated as a result of the COVID pandemic the state didn't provide a COLA to teachers last year. To make up for that he said the state is providing a 5 percent COLA this year.

District business manager Wendy Jones stated it's true the state has provided a 5 percent COLA, but not just for teacher salaries but also to help districts cover losses that have been realized during the pandemic.

Oppenhuizen, who has taught for 26 years and is a kindergarten teacher at Strathmore Elementary, stated teachers haven't received a raise in addition to a COLA increase, adding “we're seeking COLA compensation for inflation. He said teachers are willing to , but are willing to just accept a 5 percent COLA “and call it even.”

“We want the full 5 percent,” Oppenhuizen said. He actually said the teachers are willing to accept a 4.5 percent COLA increase.

He added the district has offered a 3.5 percent COLA increase. He said the difference of 1 percent amounts to just $37,000 for the 34 teachers in the district.

While Jones said she couldn't comment on specific figures as that would be considered bad faith negotiations by the district she did say about the teachers' contention on the cost of what they're asking for, “their perception is $37,000.”

Oppenhuizen added other districts in the area have provided the 5 percent COLA. “We think we're just as valuable,” he said.

But Jones contended “we have made a very fair and a very reasonable offer compared to other districts in the county.”

Oppenhuizen said the district has claimed because of declining enrollment it can't meet the teachers' demands. But Oppenhuizen said the district has a healthy reserve of $9 million when it's only required to maintain a reserve of $1.5 million. “They're one of the richest districts in the area,” he said.

While Jones did say the district does have a reserve of about $9 million, she added the district is limited to how that reserve can be used and it's not supposed to be used for teacher salaries.

Oppenhuizen also stated the district is receiving $8 million in funds to deal with COVID from the state. Jones did say the district is receiving $8 million from the state from 2020-2024. Those funds are to help districts make up for losses due to COVID.

As an example the district plans to hire three academic coaches. Oppenhuizen also said the district hired a vice principal and the three academic coaches would cost $130,000 to $150,000 each. He said teachers take the position their needs should be met first before administrative positions are added.

A vice principal who left the district and serves both schools was replaced. And Jones said the academic coach positions would be funded with funds that are specifically earmarked for areas such as professional development and providing for learning loss and additional instruction.

Still, Oppenhuizen stated as far as how those funds could be used, “that's just adding insult to injury.”

Christmas break begins at the end of this week and the teachers won't be picketing during the break. Buyt Oppenhuizen said the teachers will be right back in front of the district office as they have been once they return from the break.

“We will come back here and finish what we started,” Oppenhuizen said. “We need this thing resolved. We're not going to give up. We're not going to back down.”

Oppenhuizen said if an agreement isn't reached, the issue could go in front of an independent fact-finding panel in order to try to resolve the dispute.

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