Teachers and staff of the Northern Humboldt Union High School District filled Tuesday night’s board meeting. Packed into the library at McKinleyville High School – teacher, after custodian, after counselor – they made their way to the podium to address the board over stalled contract negotiations.
“Given the way negotiations stand, we are back three months after many of us already addressed [the board] back in June, at the district’s still insulting offer,” Drew Riddle, a McKinleyville High history teacher, said to board members.
The district administration and unions of classified staff and teachers have been negotiating since the end of the 2018/2019 school year over staff benefits as well as cost of living salary adjustments.
The district offered fully paid “Oak”-level insurance for full-time staff and $17,255.76 for part-time staff, which would result in part-time staff paying more than previous years, along with no staff receiving an annual cost of living salary increase.
According to Superintendent Roger Macdonald, the price of Oak-level insurance has risen since last year by $1,186.73 per year for full-time employees.
“What makes this year especially difficult is a significant decrease in revenues and significant ongoing increases in pension costs for all of our employees,” Superintendent MacDonald said.
As of September 3rd, the assembled membership of the teachers union has unanimously rejected the district’s offer.
At the board meeting several teachers expressed great concern over the possibility of increased cost of insurance.
“When we don’t have enough money for good health care and other needs, when we don’t take time to sit down and eat lunch, and when our work eats into our personal time with family, we cannot be our best selves and our students will suffer,” Tara Ralulu, special education teacher at Six Rivers Charter High School cautioned.
Besides teachers, classified staff also filled the rows of chairs in the Mack High Library. Custodians, secretaries and groundskeepers are already paid less than teachers. Jim Hogan, head custodian at Arcata High, gave voice to their fears.
“The classifieds can’t afford the pay cut and have a livable wage. I’m afraid this district could lose great quality individuals that make this district what it is,” he said, tearing up during an emotional speech.
Throughout the night other employees echoed similar sentiments.
Tiffany Bullman, Mack High history teacher, expressed frustration with the current staff-district relations.
“The low morale and damage this has brought upon our district will be hard to reverse once this is over, because classified and certificated staff now know what our district thinks of us, despite the fact that our administrators love to say that we are a family,” she said.
Numerous other speakers making public comment emphasized how much unpaid time they commit to helping students. Throughout the public comments teachers drew connections between teaching conditions and student learning conditions.
“If teachers are affected, being affected by things, despite how professional we are, that is going to affect the students,” JoAnn Moore, union negotiations chair and AHS English teacher, stated in her address to the board.
Students have begun to notice some changes, including quiet, weekly protests by the staff wearing black each Wednesday to show solidarity and bring awareness to the ongoing union negotiations. As of this Wednesday, some students have joined the teachers in their protest.
Miniya Bellinger, an Arcata High sophomore, spoke at the board meeting.
“I can say confidently that each one of [my teachers] has helped me and been there for me and been very supportive. I do think that they deserve whatever they need,” she said.
Arcata High principal Dave Navarre expressed hope for resolutions.
“We will continue to offer the best education for the kids,” he said.
Negotiations will continue between Northern Humboldt Union High School District and their staff until an agreement can be reached.
Note: This story was originally published in the Pepperbox, AHS’s student newspaper. Republished with permission.