A deeper look into high school labor dispute

Arcata High students marched to the Plaza in support of their teachers. Mike Pazeian | Union

Michael H. Pazeian
Mad River Union

ARCATA/MCKINLEYVILLE – Last week, students walked out of class in support of their teachers and their labor dispute with the Northern Humboldt Union High School District. 

I wanted to see and hear from all involved. My main conclusion is there are a lot of truly caring people involved in our school system.

Everyone I met and talked to from Roger Macdonald, NHUHSD superintendent, and Cindy Vickers, director of Fiscal Services, to the teachers, to the students and  to those I met at the school board meeting, were all thoughtful and caring and want “what is best for the kids.”.

My main objective here is to provide our community with information. My goal is for both sides to continue to talk and to settle their differences.

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The district’s perspective

“Our certificated and classified staff are the heart and soul of our district. We need to make sure all feel valued. We also need to be responsible to all our stake holders now and in the future as we make critical budget decisions,”  said Superintendent Roger Macdonald

 “The district is required to go through three formal budget updates. The budget adoption must be approved by June 30th each year.  Work on this budget is really a year-round process as we are always preparing three years worth of projections, which will include the next fiscal year. However, the real focus on the next year’s budget begins with the Governor’s proposal in January.  Please see the attached power point slides that describe the fiscal process. These are excerpts from a presentation I do at HSU for new or future administrators,” said Cindy Vickers.

At the school board meeting teachers questioned some of the accounting. The following is from the district:

“A couple of teachers spoke about an available $600,000 that was omitted from the presentation.  $308,413 of this is the reserve for Six Rivers Charter School.  The other $300,000 represented half of our Deferred Maintenance reserve in the General Fund, which was included in the presentation.” 

Also, the graphic in the presentation that depicted diminishing balances listed Six Rivers Charter balances from 2012-2013 compared to the projected 2019-2020 balances.  So, it was included in the presentation.

Based on an offer of full Oak coverage for full-time employees, the District would need to pay approximately $889,075 out of the General Fund and an additional estimated $54,821 out of Six Rivers Charter School.  In order to cover these

costs, the District will be required to do a combination of budget reductions and utilizing ending balances, which include the Deferred Maintenance fund and the Six Rivers Charter Reserve.  Essentially, unless the District can identify expense reductions, the $600,000 may need to be expended to cover an offer of Full-Oak.

“On the subject of Health Insurance, the District has appointed a committee lead to investigate health care options.She will be reaching out to interested parties to form a complete committee and begin work on looking at options to provide quality care at a reasonable cost.”

At the school board meeting many expressed concerns about what the state was doing with school funding and the future of that funding.

From the district:

“The biggest contribution the community can make to increase funding for schools is to get involved at the State level.  Let your legislature know that adequate funding for education secures our future.  California is the 5th largest economy in the world but has not made funding for our children a priority. (We rank 46th out of 50 states). Proposition 13 assesses property taxes for residential and commercial properties based on purchase price and allows for modest inflation each year.  The ‘Split Roll’ proposal would require commercial properties to be assessed based on fair market value.  The estimated increase in state revenue is estimated at $6 to $10 billion.  The District would support any increase in school funding that would result from the passage of the ‘split roll’ proposal.”

Students’ perspective

“My main focus is the services North Humboldt Union High School teachers provides to the underserved students: the special needs students, impoverished students, and others. NoHum teachers open their doors before school and during lunch, and after school. For many of us their classrooms are a safe place, a place of refuge. It is not just for academics, but also a safe haven. We need that support. That is what makes our teachers great. They really care,” said student Nazalin Dickerson. “Many teachers have their rooms open during the raining season. We do not know where we will go now. Many of us who are seniors need letters of recommendations for our college apps, the teachers are not available for those right now.”

“Many of us come from environments that are less. Colder. Physically and possibly an emotionally colder place. Coming to school, a warm, safe, and friendly classroom is needed. This is very important to us. But, right now we don’t have those places to go. We realize more now how important these negotiations are,” said  Avery Arbaugh. “Our campus clubs are not meeting now.” 

“I am president of our German Honor Society. We do a lot of community service events and volunteer work. Our teacher plans it all. And it has all stopped,”said Madeline Pierce. “The cafeteria and library are both small. Our new freshman class is large, over 450 students. Where will we all go to get out of the rain?” 

Teachers’ perspective

“Teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators care deeply about the situation at NoHum. However, I challenge to what depth the District actually cares about the teachers and their needs when the teachers are the last ones considered in the construction of their budget. The teachers have never paid for their healthcare in the NoHum District, yet the District doesn’t budget for that from one year to the next. Instead, this year, teachers had to start to bargain from a $5,500 hole. That doesn’t say, ‘We care’ to me,”  said JoAnn Moore. “It takes 30 years to reach the top of the teaching pay scale in NoHum with ongoing education credits. This is the longest length of time for all high schools in the area. Yet it only takes 10 years for an administrator to reach the top of their significantly higher scale. I have more teaching years of experience and significantly more education than most administrators in our district, yet I make at least $25,000 less than lowest paid full-time comprehensive high school administrator.” 

Moore continued: “My priority as a teacher is to meet the needs of all of my students. I differentiate my curriculum to make sure that students have the best chance of success on a daily basis. How is it that our NoHum District Administration has decided it is acceptable to not meet the needs of its largest group of employees – the teachers? Especially when it is the teachers that are responsible for the success of the District’s students.” 

“Like any household budget, we have to look at where the money is being spent and how it can be re-prioritized. My daughter will be heading off to college soon, and I know I will be cutting any extras in my house to support her. Right now, she is a full time student, taking an online class, and working 15 hours a week to save for herself. Just like the other children of teachers you heard speak, my daughter has had to go without because we picked professions that allowed us to give back to the community rather than those that allowed us to have a savings account. It breaks my heart every time a young person tells me they are interested in teaching because I have to tell them to rethink it. It is not a profession – with all the education it requires – that one can make a livable wage with anymore and now even the ‘perks’ of the job, like benefits and retirement packages, are being used as arrows,”  said Jennifer Berube. “I have been, and will remain, stuck on a step for 6 total years. That means even when my cost of living goes up (like my mortgage and car loan rates, my utilities, my gasoline costs, my food expenses, etc.) my salary does not – unless I receive a small bump in salary through negotiations. There are many times teachers are stuck on steps for years in a row. “ 

Berube continued “The average teacher at NoHum makes $60,000. A 2% increase is $1,200 a year, or $100 per paycheck.  Our Superintendent’s 3% increase, effective July 1, 2019, was a $4,740 increase, or $395 per paycheck according to the August Board packet. (plus annually the following stipends/funding teachers do not receive: $6,000 travel, $1200 cell phone, professional organizations paid for, and possible $15,000 benefits payout).”

“I have worked as a teacher in this district for six years. While working for this district, I have had a long list of jobs and responsibilities: Social Science Teacher, Culinary Arts Teacher, Yearbook Teacher, Leadership Teacher, Class Adviser for four years, ASB Adviser, English Teacher, Academic Counselor, EL Aide and more. I took on some of those roles to help McKinleyville High School and my district, and because I love helping students. However, the hundreds of extra hours that I and others have spent on being advisers are all unpaid volunteer hours. I have been advocating for a small stipend for those positions over the last couple of years, but the district refuses to pay a small stipend for those positions. The Superintendent of our district makes almost three times what I make. The district manages to find the funds to pay him a $1,200 stipend for a cell phone but can’t manage to find $1,000 to pay a class adviser for over 200 hours of additional work each school year. What the district chooses to spend money on and what it declines to spend money on leads me to believe that they don’t value the work that us teachers do,” said Tiffany Bullman.

Bullman continued “As our district tries to cut our health insurance benefits and deny us a cost of living adjustment, we have yet to experience a lighter workload to correspond with those proposed cuts. My class sizes are currently 32, 33, 30 and 34. I have colleagues that teach 45 Freshman in one class period. Our class sizes have grown, what is expected from us has increased, and the emotional strain of trying to nurture students that have suffered trauma has worsened. Our district can provide us what we deserve for all of this hard work by taking a hard look at how they spend money in their district office instead of trying to balance a budget on the backs of teachers and staff.”


nohum.org/  for the districts documents, (707)839-6470

Northern Humboldt Union High School Teachers’ Association on Facebook

thepepperbox.com/  Arcata HS student newspaper





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