SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- When students in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District show up for school on Thursday, it's unclear how many, if any, of their teachers will be in the classroom.
Hundreds of teachers in the Sonoma County district are expected to go on strike. The district says this is creating staffing issues. Already one of the district's elementary schools will be closed on Thursday and all but one of the district's schools will end early.
Denise Tranfaglia and Lisa Bauman are both teachers in the district who serve on the board of the Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association, the local teacher's union. They say the strike is about paying teachers a living wage. They want the district to follow a fact-finder's recommendation of raising teacher salaries by 14.6% over the next three years.
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Tranfaglia, the RPCEA President, told ABC7 News she expects over 94% of their more than 340 members will join the strike.
"I think tomorrow you're going to see almost all of our members picketing in front of all of our 12 different schools in the district," Bauma, the RPCEA Vice President, added.
The union says the average teacher salary at schools in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Union District is roughly $15,000 less than the average teachers salary for the state of California. This, despite Sonoma County's high cost of living.
At a four-hour, special school board meeting Tuesday night, many students, parents, and teachers pleaded with the district to increase teacher salaries. Some teachers described having to work side jobs to pay their bills.
"I worked full time as a teacher, and last year I took home $38,130.27 to support my family of five," one teacher said tearfully.
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Dr. Maya Perez, the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Superintendent, said the district simply cannot afford the teacher's proposal, which they feel they'd have to match for all of their union employees.
"Wholeheartedly, we want to compensate our teachers. We want to do it in a financially responsible way," Perez said. "We also have custodians, office managers, office assistants...and we want to honor the work of everyone."
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Perez said they are one of the lowest funded districts in the county in terms of per student expenditures. "So that's the challenge," she added. "We just don't have all the funding."
The strike, which is scheduled for Thursday and Friday or until a deal can be reached, would impact the roughly 6,000 students in the district.
Perez said they are bringing in administrative staff, substitutes and retired teachers to help with staffing issues. Monta Vista Elementary School will be closed. All but one of their other sites, Technology High School, will end the school day early.
"For example, we have school psychologists, they're part of the management team, so they'll be assigned to science," Perez explained. "It will not look like a typical instructional day, but we will have activities for kids."
Perez said she's concerned that after two years of COVID-19, this will be another disruption for students.
But Tranfaglia and Bauman said the disruption will be better for students in the long run by helping retain good teachers.
"The long game is that this is going to benefit the students," Bauman said. "Not giving us a living wage is what's going to hurt the students because you don't have to go very far away from Rohnert Park to make more money and to get good benefits."
"We need the Board of Educators and trustees to make this happen," Tranfaglia added. "They have the power to do this. They need to do their duty and do what's right."