top of page

The Win-Win Contract for District and Teachers Union - A Deep Dive

Chris Meredith, Superintendent of West Sonoma County Union High School District

Mar 18, 2024

West Sonoma County Union High School District and its teachers union have a new labor contract

At last week’s School Board meeting, the Board unanimously approved the Tentative Agreement between the District and the West Sonoma County Teachers Association. The WSCTA membership had previously voted to ratify the agreement. The important point is that both sides were very happy with the new one-year agreement under which Analy and Laguna teachers will be paid higher than the State average and the highest in Sonoma County.

Lily Smedshammer, the WSCTA President, said that the negotiators met four times and only one of those meetings was to discuss money. The agreement that resulted came more quickly and easily than both sides expected. Smedshammer didn’t know what she would do with a box of red t-shirts in the union office, which would have been used if the teachers went out on strike.

Lily Smedshammer, WSCUHSD President, addresses the school board at the Laguna High School library (photo by Dale Dougherty)

Because the technical language of the contract is hard to understand, I asked Superintendent Chris Meredith to explain the new contract and why both sides were happy with it. —DD

We are very proud of the recently ratified tentative agreement with the West Sonoma County Teachers Association. Ensuring that we have the highest paid high school teachers in SoCo was a priority for our District and also a great way of celebrating the amazing work that we have accomplished in recent years.  Our Dashboard showed some tremendous increases to our Math and English Language Arts scores this year!

We developed our plan for negotiations while working in what one might refer to as the “creative space.” The creativity came with restructuring the salary schedule. There is more than one way to spend a dollar. If we have a problem to solve, there is more than one way to solve that problem. With a little outside of the box thinking, we figured out a way to go about salary negotiations from a non-traditional approach for this year. 

Typically, a district looks at the dollar amount it can afford to offer and then equates that dollar amount into a percentage based on their average cost of 1%. That percentage is then applied to the existing salary schedule. We wanted to look at this concept differently. So, we tinkered with various ways to restructure our salary schedule to meet the interests of our labor partners and set our District apart from others. In doing so, we were able to maximize the 9% total district cost by squaring the salary schedule and eliminating columns, or as we call it, restructuring the salary schedule. 

Squaring the Salary Schedule

The District restructured the salary schedule to have an equal percentage between the steps and columns. Teachers advance each year on their steps, initially based on years of experience when they join the District, and then advance each year after until they max out on the salary schedule.

The District proposed a new salary schedule with a set percentage between steps of 2.6%. The old salary schedule did not have a set amount between each step. Some steps provided only a $1.00 increase year-over-year, as teachers advanced with their years of experience.

Conversely, columns are about educational units that a teacher accumulates through outside continual education, and are at the educator's expense. The current salary schedule consists of columns that require a teacher to have units beyond a bachelor's degree of 30, 45, 60, and 75 units. Again, some steps (years of service) between columns only provided a teacher who advanced in their units to the next column by a mere $1.00 increase. 

The proposed restructured salary schedule, included below, provides a guaranteed percentage between columns. Before restructuring the salary schedule, it was proposed to have a 3.5% guarantee when advancing to the next column. Acquiring the additional units beyond a bachelor's is an additional expense, and an expensive one that can be a hardship for our teachers. The restructured salary schedule proposed the elimination of two columns, with only a column for a bachelor's degree and units from 30 to 59, and a column for a bachelor's degree with 60 plus units. Eliminating the two columns guarantees 7.12% when teachers advance on the new salary schedule once they earn additional units beyond their bachelor's degree. Essentially, we removed barriers for teachers to get to the top of the salary schedule and do so more quickly. 

When the District evaluated the current placement of teachers on the salary schedule, and restructured the existing schedule, the new year-over-year increase on average for the bargaining unit members was 14.72%. This year-over-year cost to the District was equivalent to 9% based on a current-year cost of 1% increase to the bargaining unit or about $120,000 for each percent increase provided to the West Sonoma County Teachers Association unit members. 

Overall, restructuring the salary schedule, which is now one of a kind in Sonoma County, helps to ensure that the district can attract and retain high-quality educators who will continue supporting and advancing academic achievement. As the table above indicates, WSCUHSD is above average in every category of significance. In addition, the average WSCTA salary is above the statewide average by $2,816.

Our goal is to make the West Sonoma County Union High School District a destination district for all students. We just took a huge step forward in achieving this goal through the settlement of this tentative agreement with the WSCTA. 

The bargaining teams were:

WSCTA: Brian R. Miller, Lily Smedshammer, Joel Stickel, and Shealon Bertch

WSCUHSD: Chris Meredith, Andrew Soliz, Mia Del Prete and Chuck Wade

Both sides congratulated Mia Del Prete on her contributions to reaching an agreement, the last one before her retirement.

Historical context of past WSCUHSD negotiations with WSCTA: 

Current year salary and benefit comparisons to SoCo districts with a comprehensive high school before restructuring the 2024-2025 salary schedule: 

Salary and benefit comparisons to SoCo districts with the restructured salary schedule: 

bottom of page