Sacramento City Unified, teachers union agree on 2-year contract. What it means for students

Sacramento City Unified School District and its largest teachers union have agreed to raises for teachers and to lower class sizes as part of a two-year contract agreement announced Friday night.

SCUSD and the Sacramento City Teacher’s Association released a joint statement detailing the contract, which ensures teachers in the district will “remain the highest compensated educators in the greater Sacramento region.”

This new two-year pact, subject to ratification by teachers and the district’s board of trustees, comes less than a year after the two sides agreed to double-digit raises for educators ahead of the contract reopener.

The new deal would lock in pay and benefits for teachers through the summer of 2025. The deal was hammered out Tuesday, according to the district’s labor negotiations webpage.

After last year’s raises of 10%, retroactive to July 2022, county officials warned the district serving 43,000 students would have limited reserves by the 2025-26 fiscal year and said further raises could strain the district’s finances.

However, there was no mention of “strain in the district’s finances” in Friday’s announcement. The new deal emphasized retention of teachers, smaller classroom sizes and additional services for students with special needs.

“We have the opportunity to make significant improvements to students’ learning conditions, while simultaneously making Sac City Unified a great place for educators to make a career,” said Nikki Milevsky, a school psychologist and SCTA’s president, in the statement. “Sac City leaders are proving that when they work with educators great things can happen.”

How much are teachers’ raises under deal?

If ratified, SCUSD teachers would receive an across-the-board 6% increase in pay for the 2023-24 academic school year, retroactive to July 1. The amount is broken down to a 4% raise and 2% reallocation to retiree health insurance contributions, according to the terms of the deal.

There also would be a 2% ongoing salary increase for the 2024-25 academic school year.

Not part of the final deal was a 1.5% additional increase in district contribution to health insurance benefits, according to the terms signed off by the district and SCTA. The deal says that change paved the way for the 6% pay bump — up from 4% — for the current school year.

Smaller class sizes for SCUSD students

The two-year contract also specifies a reduction of classroom sizes for students in certain grade levels across some of the district’s 81 campuses.

Fourth- through sixth-grade classrooms would be capped at 30 students, down from 33 under the previous contract. A joint committee, however, would need to figure out how to implement those changes, the two sides said in the statement.

Classrooms in seventh through 12th grades would also be set lower at 32 students, down from 35.

Both class size reductions would come in the 2025-26 school year, officials said, and would only affect core subject classrooms: English, math, science, and social studies.

The district and the union said SCUSD plans to hire additional staff to help students’ educational needs, too. The district would also change the “hiring timeline and provide greater flexibility for hiring managers so more schools are fully staffed for the start of each academic year.”

The deal also outlays plans to hire librarians for all secondary schools (sixth grade and above), as well as “additional school nurses and behavior intervention specialists to support the social-emotional needs of students.”

“This agreement affirms Sac City Unified’s commitment to providing our students with the staffing support and resources they need to thrive and succeed,” said interim Superintendent Lisa Allen. “It also enables district staff to put their full focus toward improving student achievement and outcomes.”

SCUSD tackles deals as county warns of cash crunch

The deal also comes three months after the district hammered out a deal with classified school workers — custodians, bus drivers, instructional aides and food service workers — that gave them a 10% pay increase and an $18 minimum wage.

Ahead of that deal, Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools Dave Gordon warned district officials in a September letter that SCUSD’s reserves could shrink below a state-mandated minimum of $14.5 million if teachers and other staff get a pay raises.

Gordon’s letter noted the district had enough cash through 2026 but, six years ago, the district faced the possibility of a state takeover amid a deep budget crisis that had set in by 2018. That fall, Sacramento County education officials for the first time rejected the school district’s budget due to projected deficits.

Any cash crunch, even if two years down the road, wasn’t addressed in Friday’s statement, nor was the hostility that followed a strike by teachers in March 2022 that shut down schools for eight days. The strife crippled campuses as teachers squared off with then-superintendent Jorge Aguilar over more pay and a challenging teacher shortage.

In fall 2017, Mayor Darrell Steinberg brokered a deal between Aguilar and the teachers union to avert a strike during stalled contract negotiations.

Lavinia Phillips, the SCUSD Board of Trustees president, lauded the changes as a way to support “academic growth and overall well-being.”

“The SCUSD Board appreciates the proactive work of both negotiation teams to reach an agreement.”

When the union members would vote on the deal was not known, but the district’s trustees were likely to sign off on the deal at its next meeting Thursday.