Soquel Union district teachers, among lowest-paid in Santa Cruz County, gain 15% raise

A sign supporting Soquel Union Elementary School District teachers during a March board meeting.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Teachers bargained and parents complained. After months of negotiation, the district and teachers within the Soquel Union Elementary School District have agreed to a new contract thanks to a boost from the state budget. Midcareer teachers should see a jump in pay to about $73,000 a year from $64,000, somewhat easing affordability pressures.

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Teachers and administrators in the Soquel Union Elementary School District say they’re thrilled after they reached a tentative multiyear agreement that includes a 15% raise. That settlement follows months of negotiation activity and increasingly organized parent pressure to arrive at a new agreement.

The deal includes a 3% salary schedule increase retroactive to the 2021-22 school year, and a 12% increase for the 2022-23 school year set to begin Wednesday.

Gordon Barratt, vice president of the Soquel Education Association, the union representing the teachers, told Lookout on Friday he believes it is the highest raise among Santa Cruz County school district contracts this past year. He said teachers are relieved — with some feeling as though they can stop the search for more sources of income.

Last academic year, a credentialed teacher at the bottom of the pay scale earned $42,309, while this year a first-year credentialed teacher will earn $48,808 with the salary increases. A teacher with 10 years of experience and a midlevel amount of professional development credits earned $64,026 last year; that figure will be $73,860 this year. A credentialed teacher at the top of the pay scale who earned $85,742 last year would earn $98,912 this year. These estimates don’t include benefits or bonuses.

Union members ratified the agreement during a Monday meeting. Next, the district’s board of trustees will need to vote to approve the deal at its Aug. 17 meeting.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer it because our employees deserve it,” SUESD Superintendent Scott Turnbull said Monday, confirming the deal.

Teachers in the district have been the lowest-paid, or among the lowest-paid, in Santa Cruz County, according to union members and district officials. The union members’ calls for increased pay over the months became increasingly louder as they cited a 28% teacher turnover rate last year and the county’s increasingly unaffordable housing costs.

Barratt estimates a turnover rate this year of about 15%; the district is currently assessing that number as well. Teacher turnover caught the attention of concerned parents, who attended school board meetings and launched a petition to call on the district to hire an agency to help it budget for increased teacher pay.

What spurred the settlement and relatively large raise?

As the state budget became final and the district received a substantial boost in funds, Barratt and Turnbull confirmed, things changed. Finally, the union reached a tentative agreement with the district for last year and the 2022-23 academic year.

Turnbull said that because all districts saw state budget boosts this year — and therefore gave their teachers salary increases as well — Soquel might still be the lowest- or among the lowest-paying districts.