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West Contra Costa Unified and Teachers Reach Tentative Agreement to Avoid Strike, Layoffs

(Image courtesy of West Contra Costa Unified School District via Bay City News)

By Ali Tadayon

Weeks ahead of a potential strike, West Contra Costa Unified and its teachers union, the United Teachers of Richmond, struck a tentative contract agreement Friday that gives raises this year and next to teachers and school staff without the district having to lay people off.

For the next two years, at least.

The tentative agreement follows months of negotiations and comes just days before a fact-finding hearing scheduled for Thursday — the last step before the union could legally strike. United Teachers of Richmond President John Zabala said the agreement offers union members a raise of 7% for this year and 7.5% next year. It calls for salary negotiations to reopen a year after that.

>>>Read: Still Without a Contract, Union President Says Teachers Are Running Out of Options

The raises under the tentative agreement don’t align with inflation, Zabala said, and fall behind the raises in the union’s original proposal, but given the district’s projected deficit of $26.9 million, he believes it’s the best the district can do right now.

“Educators deserve better, but we do believe this is the limit for what can be expected for compensation at this time due to the district’s circumstances,” Zabala said.

United Teachers of Richmond members will vote this week on ratifying the contract.

Days before the deal was reached, the Contra Costa County Office of Education issued a stark warning letter to the district that without budget cuts and adjustments, it won’t be able to afford the raises. The county changed West Contra Costa Unified’s budget certification, requiring the district’s school board to approve a “detailed budget revision” plan prior to committing to the salary settlement. The County Office of Education must also sign off on the plan.

West Contra Costa Unified school board President Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy said that the County Office of Education was “in touch” with the district during negotiations Friday and gave the district permission to offer the settlement package. The school board must still approve a budget revision plan, but the plan in the works avoids cuts to staff for the next two years.

However, the district may have to cut staff positions in the third year, 2024-25, Gonzalez said. He hopes the district will be able to find other areas of the budget to slash before having to lay off teachers or cut vacant positions.

“We don’t have to cut staff yet, and if we do our work right, we won’t have to at all,” he said.

The tentative agreement also honors the union’s call for protections around community schools to be included in the contract, with some variances from the original proposal, Zabala said. The tentative agreement commits to including parents, community leaders as well as educators in shared decision-making for community schools through 2027 or later, when state grant funds for full-service community schools run out.

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