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Teachers across Sonoma County have turned towards direct action in recent months as many say they've hit stumbling blocks in their contract negotiations.

The educators of Bennett Valley School in Santa Rosa are the latest to vote to strike. 

Bennett Valley Union School district is one of nine separate school districts in and around Santa Rosa.

Teachers in the tiny two school district, say they are the lowest paid out of those nine, and they say now they’re prepared to go on strike to keep from falling further behind.

"There was an increase in funding this year, and it's really about priorities," Trista Forgy said. "I can tell you that when I could go just a few miles down the road to another school and make $20,000 a year more, that's really disenchanting, and if we're going to attract and retain the best teachers for our students, we're going to need to be competitive with other districts."

Forgy has taught in the district for 20 years, and is vice president of the Bennett Valley Teachers Association - BVTA.

The group represents educators at the Kindergarten through 3rd grade Yulupa School, and 4th through 6th grade Strawberry Elementary.

BVTA president Julie Schultz said the 47 member association is united in their decision.

"98% of our teachers voted to strike if needed, and obviously we would hope it's really not needed," Schultz said. "We love our students and their families and our colleagues and our Bennett Valley community, and we just feel that our colleagues need to be valued."

Superintendent Lexie Cala said the district’s economic circumstance and local funding base leaves them in a tough spot.

"We're earning about 54% per student as compared to what the rest of the districts in our county are receiving," Cala said. "From the perspective of myself, [and] the district trustees, the real measure of how a district values its teachers is really the percentage of the overall budget, and we're really proud that we spend 35.5% of our budget on teacher salaries compared to the average in the county, which is just over 29%."

Forgy said she hopes her fellow educators are given the money they feel they deserve.

"These are people who are worth the investment," Forgy said. "This group of teachers has seen this district through budget cuts, through fires, through smoke days; and most recently we pivoted on a dime to meet the needs of our students during the Covid pandemic, when we, the teachers switched to distance learning. We did that without support. On our own figured out how to do it and made it happen."

The district and teachers are currently in mediation in an attempt to settle on a contract and avoid a strike.


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