Tensions Increase Amidst Continued Negotiations

By Fiona Murphy, Editor-in-Chief

All photos courtesy of Will Oviatt, Photography Editor

October 10, 2019

Hostilities rose as teachers and community members addressed the Northern Humboldt School Board Tuesday night. An interim agreement between the District and certificated staff expired last month. Teachers continue to work with no contract for the current school year uncertain of health insurance contributions and cost of living adjustments. 

Outside the meeting last night, teachers’ union members, clad in matching t-shirts, passed out information regarding Superintendent Macdonald’s yearly increase in salary, the union’s latest offer, and the breakdown of administrative pay.

“The district has the money,” JoAnn Moore said, “One of the reasons we are in this situation is because of [administrative] salary.” 

The union shifted its message from an emphasis on how much work is done by teachers beyond contractual hours to direct criticisms of the level of administrative pay and budget planning. 

“We are in a self inflicted crisis. A crisis brought on by poor planning on the part of administration,” said Kay Wozniak, Arcata High math teacher. 

The Superintendent’s salary has increased 5.4% annually since July 2016 compared to a 1.64% annual increase for the highest level of teacher salary since 2010. 

“That is not equitable,” said Melanie Zapper, Arcata High drama teacher and Six Rivers math teacher. 

The superintendent receives an auto stipend, amounting to $500 a month and administrative staff cell phone stipends equate to $21,780 per year, according to the handout by the teachers’ union. As teachers are asked to forgo a cost of living adjustment and pay for a portion of their health insurance, which was not asked even during the recession, the superintendent received a yearly 3% raise. The decisions regarding administration versus district staff is a sticking point for teachers.

“People in positions of power should not ask those beneath them to do anything they themselves are unwilling to do,” said Taylor LeBlanc, Mckinleyville English teacher, “The district is asking teachers to take a cut and it is increasingly evident that our administration is not willing to do this themselves.”

The anger over this budget has lead to calls for overall structural repair. 

“This fight starts all over in May unless you make a big change,” said Wendy Zamboni, Arcata High math teacher. 

Since previous meetings, as negotiations continue past September, an agreement that the district would not take health insurance out of salaries during September has expired, and it is unclear where the money for Octobers insurance will come from. Unrest has compounded into outright anger, not only for district employees, but students and community members as well. 

“You gave the superintendent a raise, I didn’t even know what he looked like before last week. […] Teachers I know aren’t getting what they deserve while an unknown entity gets a 3% raise in the what, three years he’s been here. To me that’s unfair,” Zoey Clark, an Arcata High senior said. 

The Northern Humboldt teachers are now the last hold out in negotiations. Classified staff, including custodians and secretaries, settled for fully paid health insurance without a cost of living increase with the condition that if teachers receive the increase, they will too. Alexander Kantner, Arcata High English teacher, brought into question the treatment of classified staff during the negotiations process. 

“I want to bring up my heartbreak at the way our custodians and our secretarial staff thought this process. As a teacher that has a certain amount of protection in my employment, I want to use my position to shame you all, particularly you, Mr. Macdonald. I heard that you openly threatened custodians and secretaries with losing their jobs because they did not have the same kind of status and prestige, if [teachers] have such a thing, that [teachers] have,” he said.

The majority of anger is now focused toward the administrative staff, specifically the superintendent. 

“I’m not taking the hostility personally. I understand that people are frustrated. We have a difficult challenge, and I’m putting my effort into that,” Macdonald said, “If I thought there was anyway to make a significant difference I would.”