Press "Enter" to skip to content

Teachers Plea for Liveable Pay

The Dodson Family

The passionate cry, “Fair pay, teachers stay!” rang out in the Santa Barbara School District meeting room on May 9th, 2023, Teacher Appreciation Day. At 5PM, the crowds began to gather on the street in front of the district office holding signs such as “Teachers will KEEP leaving” and “I shouldn’t need a sugar daddy to teach SB Unified” and another that simply stated, “Strike?” “It’s just a question,” one teacher laughed.

Rita Newhouse-Czegledi and her sign, “Support teachers=support students”

As drums pounded to the beat of the teachers’ cries for liveable wages, many familiar Santa Barbara High faces held their signs high and proud including AP Government teacher Bill Dodson and his wife and son. When asked why Mr. Dodson was here today he stated, “We are here to try to fight for better wages especially for new teachers. It’s hard to live in Santa Barbara and live off of what [teachers] make. [My family] live[s] in Ventura and we still make the commute because we can’t afford to live in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara has some of the highest rent in the country and when we get paid so little we just can’t make it.” Another SBHS teacher standing on the street corner, Special Education teacher Rita Newhouse-Czegledi expressed,“I am here today because I firmly believe that teachers, in order to keep working in Santa Barbara,  need to get an increase in pay to match the inflation rate. We are working our tails off to serve students and this community.” Newhouse-Czegledi is pictured with the sign, “Support teachers = support students”. 

A member of the Teacher’s Union holds a sign, “Invest in your people”

After marching down State Street and back, the teachers filed into the district office for the monthly meeting. Many gathered in the viewing room behind the actual meeting space while others attempted to crowd in the back of the main meeting room with their signs. The District Board sat at the front of the room and directed the onlookers to make space in the aisle in case of emergency.

The meeting began with the district honoring the 25, 30 and 35 year teachers in the district where David Becchio bestowed pins upon the honored teachers and in return they thanked the board. This was an interesting juxtaposition to the criticism of the district that followed. One teacher later commented that they felt uncomfortable to go to the meeting to receive their pin because they felt it would be wrong to thank the district in such a climate. 

After the awards were presented, the public commentary began. One after another, teachers went to the front of the room and addressed the District Board, asking for liveable wages. One educator stated that a colleague, “…has gone so far into debt since taking this job for the district that she can no longer afford to work here without going bankrupt.” Similar sentiments were expressed throughout the public commentary and two educators, Elizabeth Bandy and Mackenzie Griffin, gave their notice of resignation during their speech. Bandy stated, “I wanted to stay here forever but it has simply become impossible, impossible, to afford living here.”

A teacher speaks in front of the District Board

 One first year fifth grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary, Christina Manila, expressed that she was so overwhelmed by her job that she was having “full blown anxiety attacks” and soon had to start spending 300 dollars a month on therapy and restart anxiety medication. She continued, “This is just one new perspective of one new teacher but I know it isn’t the impression that the school district wants to leave on their newest and future editions. From what I’m hearing from my colleagues and community, I’m rethinking whether SB Unified is a place worth staying to build my career…I am a valuable educator, however I will not jeopardize my mental health or quality of life for this.” 

District Board member Virginia Alvarez maintains the 90 second rule.

 English teacher at SBHS, Douglas Carmean, closed out the public comments with the statement, “Show your heart is in the right place, reopen salary negotiations cap or lower special education caseloads and respect elementary teachers. The financial world is being recreated before our eyes and your chance to lead is now.”

As the teachers came forward with their pleas, the District Board looked stoically on, calmly but firmly making sure the time limit of 90 seconds was not exceeded.

[The entire board meeting and public comments can be found on the SB Unified YouTube channel.]

To gain some perspective on the administration’s point of view, The Forge interviewed SB Unified Superintendent Hilda Maldonado. Unfortunately, the time allotted for the interview was not enough to cover all of the questions and some of the meeting was cut shorter than promised due to a late start time. When asked for a second interview to continue the discussion, her Public Relations Manager Ed Zuchelli replied that she was too busy to meet but offered to write up some statements. The following are public statements that Zuchelli wrote on behalf of Hilda Maldanado: 

Superintendent Hilda Maldonado speaks with Forge reporter Anya McCue

It has been a few years since the District negotiated a new contract with one of its labor partners, the Santa Barbara Teachers Association (SBTA). This is because we were fortunate to reach a 3-year agreement for the 2021-2024 school years, which provided a guaranteed salary increase in an unprecedented time of uncertainty.

Our collective bargaining law requires the District and its labor partners to negotiate over a variety of issues (including salaries and benefits) in a good-faith effort to reach an agreement. Part of the three-year mutual agreement was no reopeners on Wages or Benefits. The District and SBTA will negotiate Wages and Benefits anew for the 2024-2025 school year.

The District acknowledges, however, the economic factors at play in our area (and much of California), as external forces beyond our control and our limited revenue resources continue to concern all employees. We thank the teachers for voicing their concerns, both during the Fall Listening Tour and at recent Board meetings. While their comments help inform decisions the District makes both now, and in successor negotiations, our responsibility for fiscal stability remains a goal. Right now, our labor talks are specifically around certain items like special education caseloads, class sizes, and more. We can’t comment on specific requests since those discussions are ongoing.

The District is confident both parties will continue to work together in good faith to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

It is certain that both the teachers and the district administrators are working hard to continue to uphold this District and its students. However, it is a viable fear from the student body that the conflict of interest between the teachers and district administrators will lead to a teacher strike in the fall of 2023. This could mean no letters of recommendation, no extra curricular activities, and unqualified substitute teachers to teach school subjects. The students are the ones who will bear the consequences if this comes to pass. Change will come, one way or another. Whether this will be a sudden financial change in the district, a strike from the teacher’s union, or continual decrease in teacher retention, a shift in the SB Unified District is underway.

{Image Credits: James Sanchez]


  • Anya McCue

    Anya McCue is a senior at Santa Barbara High School and editor in chief of The Forge. She hopes to bring the SBHS community closer together through the publication of spotlights on student and Santa Barbara life. In addition to writing for the Forge, Anya is involved in ASB Leadership and dances with her ballet studio. She also loves playing guitar and being with her friends and family.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.