In a symbol of solidarity and strength, about 100 educators and supporters of the San Mateo County Education Association (SMCEA) attended the board meeting earlier this month of the San Mateo County Office of Education. Union members wore red t-shirts with their association's logo and the message "High quality contracts for high quality educators."
SMCEA consists of approximately 140 educational professionals who are contracted by individual school districts to serve students that the district schools can’t, or won’t serve.
Union members say they’ve been working without a contract since August 20 and most haven’t received a salary increase in 5-8 years.
Programs are provided for students with intensive needs, such as severe multiple disabilities, hearing, visual, orthopedic, communication and/or emotional disabilities or with autism. Students range in age from infants to teenagers.
At the March 6 board meeting, several SMCEA members and parents addressed the board requesting among other things, a salary increase.
“The county has offered a one percent salary increase with no retro; the offer was made one week after the county board of education put $7M into reserve,” said one member.
“We wouldn’t be here if they weren’t sitting on so much money. It’s an insult—one percent? We spend so much out of our own pocket said one Patty Ozeri, a teacher at the Early Childhood Education Center on Tower Road.
Union members say the county office of education has a $7 million surplus and they are frustrated that part of that surplus can’t go toward salary and benefit increases.
“We just want a living wage, and not have health insurance premiums take our whole check, “ added Ozeri.
SMCEA has also requested a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) increase, an improved benefits package and funds for supplies and improved technology in the classrooms. Some county classrooms have aging computers; some have none at all.
Members say they work with students that districts can’t or won’t work with. When combined, SMCEA salary and benefits are at the bottom for total compensation, according to one union member.
“The time has come to offer this dedicated group of educators a fair, amicable, substantive contract package and let us all return our full attention to our passion for teaching, as valued workers who are treated as such,” said Shelley Viviani, lead negotiator for the San Mateo County Educator Association.
But San Mateo County Office of Education officials say the $7 million in reserve funds is untouchable when it comes to special education teacher's salaries or benefits.
SMCEA members and union representatives will meet Monday night to discuss next steps and a possible strike vote.
The next round of negotiations between SMCEA and the San Mateo County of Office of Education has been scheduled for March 20.
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