Newhall district teachers protest for higher wages amid negotiations

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As negotiations between the Newhall Teachers Association and the Newhall School District continue into next week for a possible salary increase, teachers protested for the second time this spring semester asking the district to provide “a livable wage for our teachers.” 

More than 50 Newhall teachers alongside parents and students stood outside the Newhall School District office on Orchard Village Road and Wiley Canyon Road with various signs and chanting on Tuesday afternoon.  

In response, district officials said they are confident an agreement can be reached that is both fiscally responsible and fair to the teachers.  

“We’re showing the board that we are united in our cause to get a livable wage for our teachers,” said Hilary Hall, co-president of the Newhall Teachers Association and a teacher at Pico Canyon Elementary School. 

Diana Williams, speech and language pathologist at Wiley Canyon Elementary, and Long Nguyen, a counselor at Stevenson Ranch Elementary School, hold their poster outside of the Newhall School District office as vehicles pass and honk in support of their goal to get a pay raise. Jose Herrera/The Signal

According to Hall, the district had initially offered Newhall teachers a 2% off-schedule raise, or a one-time bonus, and a 2% on-schedule raise. But for many teachers that “would end up a pay cut because of the [cost] increase in health insurance,” Hall said. 

And it’s not just the increase in health insurance, as rent has gone up, and the costs of food and gas are way up, she added.  

In March, Newhall teachers protested and addressed the NSD governing board during a special meeting about the same issue. Multiple teachers reiterated that the cost of living has significantly increased, and if they weren’t given a raise, many would consider leaving the district altogether.  

Several teachers asked for letters of recommendations to be able to apply to other school districts, according to Hall.  

“Most districts will only take 10 years of experience. I’m up over 20 years. Normally, it’d be a pay cut for me to go somewhere else, but there are some districts that take all of your years,” Hall said. “If I went out to Palmdale, I’d make almost $10,000 more than what I make here.” 

“But we want to stay here because we love this district, but we can’t afford to anymore.” 

Newhall School District students Olivia De Paula and her brother Elias, and Cara Solarez (center) hold signs in support of their teachers. Jose Herrera/ The Signal

According to Hall, after the March protest, the teachers’ negotiations team saw some movement from the district. But more importantly, NTA members realized they weren’t alone, she said. 

“We’re all sticking together and trying to have everybody’s backs,” Hall said, “since we know a lot of people are really struggling right now. They need to know that everybody’s fighting for them.” 

In response to Newhall teachers protesting, Donna Rose, president of the Newhall School District governing board, wrote in a statement that the district and NTA continue to engage in ongoing negotiations and they are “optimistic” they will come to a final agreement in the near future. 

“The goal of our governing board and district leadership is always to provide the maximum amount of compensation for our bargaining groups while adhering to the board-approved budget guidelines that will ensure we remain fiscally solvent and avoid significant reductions in staffing,” Rose’s statement read. 

Newhall School District teachers, parents and students protest outside of the NSD office in Valencia on Tuesday afternoon. Newhall teachers are seeking a salary increase as the cost of living in California continues to rise. Jose Herrera/The Signal

According to district staff, they have given teachers two options in the last couple of weeks in addition to other monetary compensation. 

The first offer would provide Newhall teachers with a 4% on-schedule raise while the second offer would give teachers a 3% on-schedule raise with a 3% off-schedule raise, according to district staff. The district has also offered to raise the starting pay for specialized positions such as a speech and language pathologists from $50,000 to $75,000 because it’s been difficult to fill those positions. 

Both parties have also tentatively agreed on increasing stipends for induction teachers, educators who mentor new teachers in the district, from $1,000 to $1,500, according to Superintendent Jeff Pelzel. They also included raising the pay for teachers who take on additional duties, such as after-school programs or attending specialized training, from $32 per hour to $35 per hour.  

The district has also offered to provide teachers with a $1,000 stipend, which had only been offered to about three educators working with students considered moderate or severely behind, Pelzel added.  

Newhall School District teachers, staff, parents and students protest for “livable” wages for teachers in front of the NSD office on Tuesday afternoon. Jose Herrera/The Signal

According to Pelzel, the district must adhere to a state statute that enforces that school districts must have a 3% reserve to their budgets. The Newhall district has a 6% reserve in its budget and it would only cover about two and a half weeks of salaries in case there was a major emergency, Pelzel added. 

Both Rose and Pelzel agreed that Newhall teachers have done amazing work, especially these last two years teaching through a pandemic and adapting to various challenges. 

“We have outstanding teachers. We want to give all of our staff, both certified and classified, the maximum amount of compensation for their hard work,” Pelzel said. “But we have to do so while remaining fiscally solvent.” 

Kim Ferguson, who has been with the district for 20 years and one of two art teachers for the district, said she’s been in “an extremely stressful situation.”  

“I’m a single homeowner, and I don’t know that I’m going to be able to stay because I’m in a really high tax bracket,” Ferguson said. “So, by having that extra percent in the salary schedule would make a big difference for myself and a lot of our teachers.” 

Newhall School District teachers, parents and students protest for “livable” wages for teachers in front of the NSD office on Tuesday afternoon. Jose Herrera/The Signal

A salary increase would also mean a good retirement in the community, she added.  

“A lot of teachers that stay in this community continue to give back to our schools,” Ferguson said. “They come back as substitute teachers, they are part of a lot of programs, some tutor and they stay around.” 

In addition, Ferguson has been a member of the NTA negotiation team for almost seven years. Although she could not delve into specific details as negotiations are ongoing, she said the team‘s approach is “we’re all together in the district.”  

“We’re all working for one common thing and that’s to teach our kids and provide the best environment we can for our children,” Ferguson said. “To complete that goal, we need to be here.” 

“We go into negotiations with friendliness and hopefully we both [teachers and the district] can see each other’s sides,” she said. “We need the money to be spent on us now. We need to be able to stay here, and we need our teachers to be making a livable wage in this community.”  

Newhall School District teacher Jessica Greene-Smisko holds a sign “Get in Loser. We’re fighting for Fair Wages” on Tuesday afternoon outside the Newhall School District office.

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