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San Diego Unified teachers demand higher pay, better working conditions

If an agreement is not reached by the end of this month, union leaders say they are prepared to declare an impasse.

SAN DIEGO — Hundreds of educators in the San Diego Unified School District, along with other staff, staged a massive protest outside district headquarters Tuesday before the district's board meeting. 

They're demanding higher pay in the face of skyrocketing living costs, along with better work conditions.

Teachers and staff in the county's largest school district have been working without a new contract since June 2022. While negotiations are ongoing, they are threatening more drastic action if an agreement is not reached by the end of this month.

"We want to be heard, we want to be valued, and most importantly, we want to be respected," said one protestor, speaking to hundreds of other raucous participants.

They are fighting -- in their words --  for a living wage, including a 10% raise this year and eight percent the following year. 

"Everything is going up.. so our salaries should go up!," said teacher Vernice Harrell, who has been teaching in the district for more than three decades.  

"A one-bedroom in San Diego is over $2000, so how can we expect to be living  here in San Diego in the community we are supposed to serve?," added Chris Caylor, who works at Lincoln High School. 

"We need to survive, we need to put food on the table, we need to pay our bills!," shouted Shawn Mills, a food service worker at Crawford High School. 

"The district has historic funding this school year and next school year, " added San Diego Education Association (SDEA) president Kyle Weinberg, "And we want a raise that keeps up with that increase in district funding."

Along with a raise, they're also fighting for smaller class sizes and more staffing, including more counselors. 

"We need counselors, full-time at every school," said Rick Froehbrodt, a fifth-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary, "Because our kids don't have part-time problems."

The union is also demanding as well as more special education teachers. 

"Supporting special ed services impacts all of our general education teachers, and we are not getting the support, we are not getting the bodies needed," speech pathologist Molly Kistin, who works at Chollas Mead Elementary, told CBS 8. 

In a statement to CBS 8 , San Diego Unified said: 

"The San Diego Unified School District continues to work collaboratively with the San Diego Education Association and other labor partners on a contract that honors the work of our teachers and staff, and recognizes their dedication to educate and support students and help them recover from the effects of the pandemic."

Educators protesting in front of SDUSD headquarters said they hope the district means what they say. 

"We don't want to go to strike, but if I have to... I did it before and I can do it again!," said teacher Vernice Harrell, who works at Chollas Mead Elementary.

That strike was back in 1996, and lasted five days. 

The head of the union says that if an agreement is not reached by the end of this month, they are prepared to declare an impasse.

WATCH RELATED: California bill to increase teacher pay by 50% by 2030 passes committee (May 2023).


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