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Teachers rally, demand wage increase
at school board meeting

Members of the United Educators of San Francisco attended yesterday's school board meeting in San Francisco to demand a wage increase and a new contract.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Chelsey Hart

May 23, 2007

Teachers rallied late Tuesday afternoon outside the San Francisco Unified School District headquarters before the bimonthly board of education meeting. The teachers' union, the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), organized the rally to give a voice to top teacher concerns: fair pay, or a wage increase including a Cost of Living Adjustment, and a new contract.

Teachers held signs saying "Thank a teacher" which some passersby did, writing notes of support and encouragement on a large white board that would later form a backdrop at the board meeting.

Dennis Kelly, president of UESF, explained to Fog City that it was the not the union leadership initiating the action, but the teachers pushing the leaders to make changes.
This is "not a leadership action, but the membership went to our assembly and passed a strike vote, which authorizes a strike between now and September if some agreement isn't reached," Kelly said.

"It's the people forcing the leadership, saying, we've got to get this settled. People want this contract in place by July 2007," Kelly added.

As written in the union bylaws, two votes are required before a strike beginning with a meeting where a strike possibility is discussed. Membership has directed the union leaders to call a meeting that would call for a strike if an agreement is not reached soon.

Teachers were given a raise last year, but have yet to see a Cost of Living Adjustment for this year. SFUSD 5th grade teacher Ryan Moore, explained why he and his colleagues were at the rally and meeting during an interview with Fog City Journal.

"What we settled at last year was a stop gap, and now we are asking for an increase based on the Cost of Living Adjustment. Along with a wage increase, we are asking for some protection for teachers, repairs to classrooms, so the students can learn in a comfortable environment. We're here to say, 'Let's not let the contract lapse for two to three years.' It's time to do something about it before it gets to that point. Let's just settle it."

Ryan Moore

Like many other teachers attending the rally and meeting, Moore felt he had to put his activism ahead of his daily teaching duties. " I am here to fight for my own wage when I should be home grading papers," Moore said.

Inside the meeting, school board commissioners and interim superintendent Gwen Chan listened as speakers rose to discuss, among other things, fair pay and a new contract. Teachers lined the walls, and stood throughout the proceedings, holding signs saying "Settle now!" and "Give us the respect we deserve!"

San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Gwen Chan (left)
with School Board President Mark Sanchez.

Dennis Kelly took to the microphone, chastising the district for its misplaced priorities.

"Out of the budget that should go to teachers and school workers, you are 9% behind the average of what other school districts spend on their employees; 9% of a 450 million dollar budget is what you are behind. That's basically what you owe the employees that every other large school district has recognized and has paid."

Kelly continued, urging immediate action.

"For the past four and a half months at the bargaining table, we have been very patient. On Thursday of this week, your bargaining rep has promised to bring a compensation packet to the table. We urge you not to delay, not to play games with it, not to defer."

United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly

The poet Langston Hughes warned of the consequences of a dream deferred, and Kelly quoted him in his plea.

"There are two consequences of the denial of dreams according to Langston Hughes, one is 'withering into non-existence,' the other is 'bursting out with rage.' We will not wither away. That leaves you the other alternative."

This next school year will bring new leadership to the SFUSD with a new superintendent, which, Kelly adds, brings, "some possibility of going forward."

On Thursday, the district will issue a financial proposal for the upcoming school year.




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