‘An incredible boost in morale’: Pacific Collegiate School board, teachers union reach agreement

Pacific Collegiate School.
(Via Stripe Design Services)

The new deal will see teachers at Pacific Collegiate School, a charter school on Santa Cruz’s Westside, get an average raise of 16%; the agreement runs through the 2024-25 school year, though the school’s board of director and the teachers union must still negotiate terms of the final contract year.

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The Pacific Collegiate School Board of Directors approved a new contract with the school’s teachers union this week — one the union president estimates will boost teacher pay by an average of 16% over the first two years of the contract.

A teacher who earned $65,883 prior to the contract’s implementation will earn $74,949 during the second year — or the 2023-24 school year — of the contract.

The agreement also led to other benefits such as improved parental leave time and expanded bereavement benefits as well as adding a college counselor to the bargaining unit.

Pacific Collegiate School is an independent, public charter school that serves 533 students in grades 7 through 12. Founded in 1999, PCS is located on Mission Street in Santa Cruz near the site of the Westside farmers market.

Union president Mary Gardner said finalizing this deal and improving teacher pay is vital for teacher retention after the school saw a 34% turnover among its faculty at the end of last year. She said teachers largely left because of burnout and financial challenges.

Gardner said the tone at the board’s Wednesday meeting, where members in attendance unanimously approved the contract, was positive.

“It makes people feel like, ‘The school values me, they want me here.’ I see an incredible boost in morale among our faculty,” said Gardner, who teaches history and Latin. “The school wants to build with us and grow with us — and cares about us as a community being here. That has an immediate positive impact on our students.”

Board president Claire Grosjean said the board, the majority of whom are parents of current or future students, values its teachers. Grosjean has a first-year student at the school and has been on the board for four years. This is her first year as president and she’s currently a managing director of global operations at Silicon Valley Bank.

“The approval of the new bargaining agreement shows genuine commitment among everyone at PCS who works in service of providing our students with the education and services they deserve,” she said. “We are grateful for the support of our community and look forward to continuing to deliver excellent free public education for all.”

The board and the union, United PCS, started negotiations for this contract almost a year ago and reached an impasse in December when they couldn’t agree on the step increases. Following mediator-led bargaining sessions, they announced a tentative agreement March 1.

The new agreement is the union’s second contract after the union, formed in 2018, reached its first contract with the board in 2020. The first agreement also required mediation. United PCS is an affiliate of the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

What’s in the new agreement

The new contract is effective for July 2022 through June 30, 2025. Next spring, the union and the board will go back to the bargaining table to negotiate salary and benefits for the 2024-25 school year, the final year of the contract. Because funding can vary from year to year, and is expected to in the coming years, both sides agreed to return to negotiate salaries for the third year.

A patio on Pacific Collegiate School's Westside Santa Cruz campus
A patio on Pacific Collegiate School’s Westside Santa Cruz campus.
(Via Pacific Collegiate School)

Gardner estimates that the average increase teachers will see as of next year will be almost 16% compared to the salary scale prior to the implementation of the contract — but some teachers will see more or less depending on where they are on the steps.

The new contract gives teachers a 5% base salary increase for the 2022-23 school year and another base salary increase of 4% for the 2023-24 school year.

The school and union also agreed to 2.5% step increases for steps 1-5 and 3% step increases for steps 6-22. After step 22, there’s no step increase.

In Gardner’s situation, she said her current salary of $65,883 rises to $72,066 after the 5% base salary increase and 3% step increase for the 2022-23 school year. Next year, her salary jumps to $74,949 after the 4% base salary increase and another 3% step increase.

‘You can’t pay for everything with the same amount of money’

This comes at a cost to the school, and Head of School Maria Reitano said PCS has a substantial reserve to help it stabilize. She said with the impact of the contract on the budget this year, the school will have a deficit of $360,000. In the next three years, the school will invest over $1.8 million in total.

“We did projections out quite a few years to see what the impact would be in the future year budgets. We have a tight budget. We think we can manage it with limited cuts to our program,” said Reitano. “At some point, you can’t pay for everything with the same amount of money, so it is going to force our board of directors to really think critically about how and what can be a part of our ongoing budget formula year after year.”

The school spends about 72% of its budget on salaries and benefits, according to board president Grosjean. The contract will bump that percentage up slightly, to around 75%.

Other school districts, like Soquel Union Elementary School District, typically spend up to 87% of their budget on salaries and benefits.

Reitano and Grosjean said that as a public charter school, PCS takes on costs other schools don’t; other schools are often associated with a school district that generally owns the buildings those schools operate in and provides administrative support. PCS pays about $422,000 a year — or about 5.3% of its annual expenses — to its foundation to rent the building.

Grosjean said the Pacific Collegiate Foundation owns the building, so it decides how much the school pays. Once the loan on the building is paid off, Grosjean said the foundation could look into reducing the amount.

The Santa Cruz County Office of Education is the school’s charter authorizer; it is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

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