SRCS Elementary Teachers Rally Together For Higher Wages

Alexander Rodriguez and Evan Reich

San Rafael City Schools and the San Rafael Teachers Association have come to a dispute regarding the teacher salary deficit that many educators are facing. On Feb. 13, 2023, elementary district educators and the SRCS community came together outside of the San Rafael City Schools district office to rally the community to fight for a 15.54% increase in their salaries to compensate for higher costs of living throughout the Bay Area as well as higher costs for supporting their families with food, gas, utilities, and other necessities of living. Along with the community rally, the association filled the seats of the district’s evening board meeting.

Beginning around 5:40 p.m., chants began outside, “Students Matter, Teachers Care,” and, “SRTA, we deserve fair pay,” and, “Our. Students. Deserve. The. Best,” and, “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Our teachers’ salaries are too low!” A notable organizer, Molly O’Donoghue, a teacher at Laurel Dell Elementary School and Vice President & Grievance Chair of SRTA, was seen rallying fellow educators, parents, and supporters to challenge the District board against this year’s pay discrepancy at surrounding elementary schools. Teachers and educators were heard and seen with whistles, tambourines, and bells during the rally.

Alexander Rodriguez

Members of the protest began to file into the district building, while continuing their chants to the upstairs board meeting. Dave Schmitz, a Venetia Valley School Teacher shared, “San Rafael City Schools is not offering what we feel to be an adequate and reasonable compensation package for the members of the San Rafael Teachers Association.”

District teachers, parents, students and community members filled all of the seats in the main board room as well as a separate room that played a livestream of the meeting. Signs like, “Students deserve the best educators” and “Fair Pay = Educators Stay” were prominently held and shown at the board members during the public comment section of the meeting.

Once the board members started the meeting, the Pledge of Allegiance was stated and public comment began soon after. Educators elaborated on the cost of living in San Rafael and the consequences that inflation brings up and how it drives teachers out of Marin entirely but how they remain determined to serve the SRCS community. Some speeches went to length on how teachers are depleting their savings to cover rent, utilities and other household expenses. 

Rebecca Courtney, a Coleman Elementary school teacher told the board, “I began very low on the pay scale…I had the desire to become a foster parent but a requirement is that the foster parent had to have their own bedroom and I could not afford rent on a two bedroom apartment on my salary.” She continued, “I was already going into debt each year with a one bedroom apartment. I began thinking if I could just hold out until year 12, I could get a bump in salary and finally earn enough to afford a two bedroom apartment.” Courtney expressed, “I began to couch surf to save money.” 

David Peterson, a Laurel Dell Elementary School teacher was next. “Little did I know, my effort in acquiring my credential would hinder my life to a point where I have to, contrary to where my heart tells me to be, reconsider my career.” Peterson mentioned, “My job is important and I am really good at what I do.”

An educator mentioned she had been in the district for 37 years. She is a half time teacher, “I take home less than a third.” She continued, “My December paycheck was $2,018.”

A powerful and moving speech was given by Venetia Valley K-5 School Teacher, Rachel deBaere. She has established herself in San Rafael as a second grade teacher for nine years. She outlines “I speak four languages, and am the mother of three children.” She mentions that being an educator fulfills her. “My job is a tremendous labor of love.” She spoke briefly that her job includes writing legal documents, report cards and newsletters. She contributes her own money towards buying books for her classroom and supplies for her students. “Here in this room I am the rule, not the exception.” Hinting that other educators have similar tasks. She personally brings up, “I have gone to my students’ homes to read bedtime stories and share meals. I go to their soccer games, recitals, quinceañeras, and birthday parties. I meet my families at public libraries to help them find books.” She exclaimed, “My ends don’t meet!”

deBaere continues with, “I take home $5,600 a month. From that I pay the mortgage: $2,700, property taxes: $1,000, other medical expenses: $500, insurance and utilities: $800. That doesn’t leave me much for food, gas, car repairs, home maintenance and other basic needs. To survive here, I withdraw from my shrinking savings account every month to cover it all. [SRCS] pay us far too little!”

A parent of two kids who attend schools within SRCS and holds a background in data analytics, Jason Gonzalez spoke up against superintendent Jim Hogeboom specifically. “Reading that what’s being asked is 15% and what was offered was 4% is insanity. At 4%, you’re asking [educators] to eat 4%. On top of that, our Consumer Price Index numbers are 10%, cost of living adjustments being another 8-10%. That doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention, food in of itself is another 10%.” He emphasized towards the board at the end of his speech saying, “Just do the right thing.”

The total audience of this meeting is to be expected to be around 50-60 people, All of which showed signs of support, words of encouragement to those who spoke, and an overall presence to combat this issue that their fellow educators are facing.

SRCS countered with a press release on their district website. The board is claiming that student activities are taking priority over the teachers salaries. “At the same time, we are obligated to ensure that our District remains financially sound and that we can invest in student learning initiatives.”

Another statement on SRCS’ press release was, “over the last 10 years, SRTA members have received a 34.5% salary increase. SRFT (district certificated staff) members have received a salary increase of 15.9% over that same time period. In the 2021-22 school year, the average salary of an SRTA member was $92,972 and the Marin County elementary school average was $89,519.”

“This would be a shift in the district’s current practice, as SRCS has historically funded salary increases using other areas of the budget. The district must ensure that these restricted dollars are used to improve outcomes for our students.” The SRCS board claims this salary increase would divert financial resources from other budgets. Members of SRTA disagree and conclude that increasing educators’ compensation is the overall solution to the problem and retain more seasoned educators.