School Year Could Begin With Teacher Strikes in 2 Sonoma County Schools

Teachers in the Wilmar Union School District in Petaluma have voted to strike after mediation efforts failed on July 25, the Wilmar Teachers Association said.

Officials with the association said both the union and the district are heading into fact-finding, which involves the review of both parties' proposals by a panel, which recommends a settlement.

If that fails, the teachers have a right to strike.

The WTA said its teachers make almost 25 percent below the state average and the school district offers one of the lowest average teacher salaries in Sonoma County's 39 school districts.

"Our students' teachers are financially overwhelmed and struggle to afford basic necessities like rent and healthcare," WTA President Janice Garrigan said in a statement.

"Wilmar will never be able to retain and recruit the best educators for our students without a long-term written commitment to fix this situation," Garrigan said.

There are 250 students in the TK-sixth grade school district.

Separately, 16 teachers in the K-8 Forestville Unified School District went on strike Monday. The teachers are asking for either a 10 percent raise over two years or a 13 percent raise over three years.

"It's time for this district to invest public money in students and teachers," the union's bargaining co-chair Ryan Strauss said in a statement. "This is about a better future for our schools and our community, and about a district that seems to be indifferent to both."

Strauss added, "Many teachers are leaving for better-paying districts, which has to stop. Our students deserve better."

Schools in the Forestville school district are scheduled to open Thursday for the new school year and it appears the strike will not be over.

Superintendent/Principal Renee Semik posted a letter online Wednesday to parents and guardians about the first day of school.

It said "classrooms will be adequately staffed with credentialed professionals," and district officials are encouraging parents and guardians to send their children to school.

Teachers disputed Semik's assertion that classrooms will be staffed adequately.

Semik said that classrooms will be staffed with qualified administrators and substitute teachers.

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