Dozens of TUSD employees practiced chanting their slogans for 20 minutes before the scheduled meeting of the board. They filled the District Education Center Board Room, 1875 W. Lowell Ave., so teachers, bus drivers and janitors could speak out during the public comment period of the 7 p.m. meeting. The union members then left, never hearing the response of the board.
Denise Cheeseman, the president of California School Employees Association local chapter 98 and the chairwoman of the union’s negotiations team, talked about the plight of the men and women she represents.
“We’ve been trying to work on getting fair raises,” Cheeseman said. “We have members working two and three jobs just to feed their families.”
Bus driver and CSEA member Leonard Pacheco accused the board and administration of bullying the employees during his public comment.
It was a sentiment echoed by West High School art teacher Alex Nelson, whose Tracy Educators Association is also negotiating with the district for pay raises.
“Teachers teach because they love it. We definitely don’t teach because of the money,” Nelson said. “A big problem is they know that and they take advantage of that, the administration and the district and the board. That’s the bullying part.”
Nelson told the board during his public comment that he and his wife, parents of six, were forced two years ago to walk away from their home because they could no longer afford the mortgage payments.
“We were upside down on our loan and making less money every year,” Nelson said after he left the meeting. “I just want enough money that I can support my family. I want what’s fair. That 2 percent they’re talking about doesn’t even come close to covering the amount of money that health care has gone up for us.”
Nelson said the TEA believes there is more money available this year for raises because the state has begun returning funds to local school districts. Cheeseman said she has seen the budget numbers and agrees.
“In the amount they are offering, they are not calculating all of that new money coming in (from the state),” the union leader said. “After reviewing all the books, we truly believe they can start with a 2 (percent) for last year and 2 (percent) for this year.”
Members of the board of education, who are prohibited by law from responding during the public comment period, addressed the protest during their open comments at the end of the meeting.
Board president Greg Silva talked about state funding.
“The school districts aren’t really getting any increase in funds,” Silva said. “What it all boils down to is Sacramento smoke and mirrors, as usual.”
Board clerk Gregg Crandall was disappointed to address an almost empty room after all the union members left shortly after the beginning of the meeting.
“If you want to stand up and sling mud, stick around and hear what I’ve got to say,” Crandall said. “Some of us don’t even have kids in the district, and we’re still here because we care about every employee, and for someone to stand up and tell me that I’m bullying them, how dare you.”
James Vaughn, board vice president, said union members went from assertive to aggressive.
“The bullying thing was just over the top,” Vaughn said. “I know in my heart that over the years, a lot of the people that were here, we’ve saved their jobs by not being irresponsible with the money in the district. That’s why people still have a job.”
Vaughn criticized members for politicizing the negotiations.
“If you are assertive, you show up to more board meetings. You don’t show up once every 10 years,” he said. “I took furlough days when I was a teacher in my district. I saw the teachers here wouldn’t even take a furlough.”
Crandall summarized the board’s position.
“I want everybody to get a pay raise. I speak for all seven of us. But we can’t do it and bankrupt the district,” he said.
• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or email@example.com