Teachers, Staff Take Over Sweetwater Board Meeting

Published Oct. 22, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

Sweetwater Union High School District Board of Trustees stopped their meeting after about 30 minutes Monday as hundreds of district employees protesting outside made their way into the meeting.

As contract negotiations continue, union representatives said they are upset about recent changes that would require teachers and staff to pay more for medical insurance.

The meeting started at 6 p.m. with doors closed to keep out loud protests.

District spokeswoman Nadege Johnson sent out the following statement about an hour after the meeting was stopped.

In an effort to restore civility, the Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting
was called to recess on October 21, 2013. Unfortunately, the discussions regarding health care negotiations is an issue that impacts everyone.
We understand people are passionate about it and we understand that this is a sensitive issue on both sides, however no one wins when the audience is unruly. We encourage everyone to share their thoughts and point of view in a respectful and civil way. We embrace restoring a civil tone so that productive district business and bylaws may resume.
The Sweetwater Education Association accuse the district of violating a collective bargaining agreement.

“At the eleventh hour the SUHSD has reneged on the agreement and will only contribute $749 per employee,” the SEA said in a statement.

Rates consistent with the agreement were provided to teachers last month and changed by the district Oct. 7, weeks before teachers were to choose their healthcare coverage.

“All they have to say is they’re going to honor the agreement we’ve had all along you know and this is done. And we go back to negotiating,” said SEA President Roberto Rodriguez. “But what happened is Brand changed the rates that everybody’s going to pay in the middle of the negotiations and he did that unilaterally. You’re not supposed to do that. You honor the previous agreement until a new agreement is signed.”

Chery Sias of Imperial Beach graduated from Mar Vista High School and has taught U.S. History for the past 14 years.

“It’s a drastic increase from what we were paying before,” she said.
Sias stood at the protest with Mar Vista High School government teacher Robert Medrano.

All of us, we budget to what we make, and it limits what you can provide for your family,” he said. “We’re here to serve other children and in turn our district treats our children poorly.”

When the district decides to use “families as a bargaining chip” and deals are broken, Medrano said, sometimes protest is necessary.

“What more do you have than to come and voice your voice? This is all you have as an American, to follow the process,” Medrano said.

The school district needs to start a search for a new superintendent, said Mar Vista Academy math teacher Colleen Cook-­Salas.

“We need to ask this school board before they become too busy with their court cases that perhaps they should think about the legacy they want to leave the district,” she said.

Elvia Estrella is the president of the Sweetwater Counseling and Guidance Association.

The SEA and other unions met at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to share stories, held a trunk­-or-­treat and scheduled the protest to start at 6 p.m. and take place during the first 30 minutes of the school board meeting.

When asked if teachers intentionally planned to interrupt the meeting, “I mean we came here to be heard. Not just teachers but counselors, classified, we all came here to be heard. However we do have a voice and we want to be heard and we’re going to be heard no matter what.”

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