Past and present faculty, students and community members gathered across the street from Pacific Collegiate School PCS dressed in red on a chilly Friday morning to advocate for better pay for the charter school’s teachers, who are among the lowest paid in Santa Cruz County.
“We are calling on PCS to invest in its educators so we can stay here and invest in our students,” said President of United PCS and history teacher Mary Gardner at the gathering. “We are so moved by your support and by the students who came out today. We are in this profession because of you and we are fighting for a fair contract because we love you guys.”
For example, a teacher in their 10th year would make about $69,000 annually at Pacific Collegiate compared to a teacher at Santa Cruz City Schools who would make about $85,000, according to data gathered from the school’s salary schedules
When teachers can land better paying gigs in other areas of the county, over the hill or elsewhere, it leads to high turnover rates at the charter school and teachers struggling to get by in the city where they work.
Assemblymember Gail Pellerin was also present at the gathering to show her support for United PCS and did her part in pumping up the crowd of about 50 people.
“This is a phenomenal school and has some of the highest rankings in the nation and I think that the PCS teachers need to have a competitive salary,” said Pellerin. “We need to pay them what they’re worth and enough to live in this community. It’s crazy how people have to commute from out of town. It’s unacceptable.”
The teachers union at Pacific Collegiate School, called United PCS, declared an impasse in negotiations on Dec. 14 with California Public Employment Relations Board after about nine months and a dozen bargaining sessions. Because the impasse was declared, a third party, state-appointed mediator was appointed to facilitate the negotiations, which started again earlier in January.
The first round of mediation didn’t lead to a contract, so the school’s board of directors, United PCS and the mediator are entering a second round.
“Today is our second mediation session,” said Jenny Eskenazi, math teacher. “We are out here so that the community understands that our salary scale is low compared to the rest of the county, which is already low compared to the state. It’s becoming really difficult for the teachers to stay here. It’s especially hard for the teachers in their middle years who are ready to start families.”
United PCS is seeking a 5% increase in salary for all teachers, and incremental step increases of 3% compared to the current incremental increase of 2.5%, but the school’s board of directors refuse to budge.
“To me, it feels like we’re disrespected,” said Kyle Walters, biology and environmental science teacher. “We see what other teachers at other schools are paid and we feel like we deserve it as well. We have disclosure of their financials so we know that there’s money around, and they’re just choosing not to give it to us.”
The faculty that gathered outside of the school Friday morning spoke to their love for the staff and students at Pacific Collegiate School and the struggles they endure because of their relatively low pay.
“We are the highest ranked and the lowest paid,” said history teacher Tim Ruckle. “I live in Boulder Creek where there’s fire and floods and no power, and that’s not out of choice. I had a place three blocks away from the school, but I lost my lease and I couldn’t afford to live close anymore.”
“I love teaching at this school,” said art teacher Ken Alley. “But the pay sucks. Seriously, it’s ridiculous, and it’s frustrating. Bargaining for pay is always a challenge no matter where you are but I feel this year there hasn’t been a lot of bargaining. I feel like the other side of the table is really entrenched in drawing the line and there’s been almost no movement. It’s discouraging and it’s affecting the students, especially the turnover. There are only eight people here that have been here as long or longer than me out of about 65 staff. There’s no institutional memory.”
“As an older teacher, I feel for the younger teachers just trying to earn a living wage and find a place to live,” said special education teacher David Ramos-Beban. “I want to stay at PCS for the rest of my career but it would be irresponsible to my family to stay here. Not that I would go over the hill, but there are plenty of other schools in the county that are approaching a living wage.”
“This year my wife and I had to unexpectedly move and with a dog, and with this pay, it was next to impossible,” said Wes Winter. “We moved to the summit, and chose to commute, but this will be my last semester at PCS because it’s so much easier to make money over the hill.”
Whether or not this round of mediation leads to a contract, United PCS members are committed to supporting each other and advocating for better pay until they get it.
“We feel like we’ve made our case and clearly we have the support,” said Vice President of United PCS Devon Lincoln. “We are ready to do whatever we need to do.”
The Pacific Collegiate School’s board of directors did not respond to a request for comment before the Sentinel’s deadline.