R. Roger Rowe teachers ask for salary increases, respect

R. Roger Rowe School
(Staff photo)

Following an unprecedented and challenging school year, Rancho Santa Fe School District teachers are asking for salary increases as well as a shift in the school’s culture. As contract negotiations begin for the 2021-22 school year, 19 members of the R. Roger Rowe School staff spoke up during the board’s April 15 meeting sharing common themes of teachers not feeling supported or respected, not being treated as professionals and poor staff morale.

“The past year has been difficult for most…the educational establishment, teachers especially, have been scrutinized and challenged,” said middle school teacher Lindsey Conley. “There is a need for systemic change as it relates to building respectful relationships, showing empathy and supporting the wellbeing of teachers and staff.”

“No teacher in our district is asking for unreasonable pay, we are simply asking to be paid for the exceptional education we provide at our school year after year,” first grade teacher Angelina Isambert said.

While many San Diego students returned to school for the first time this month, some in modified schedules, the Rancho Santa Fe School District has been full-time, in-person since Aug. 24. Teachers have been teaching students in the classroom and students at home in the distance learning program simultaneously.

Currently, 533 students attend school in person and 33 remain in distance learning (down from the 56 students who were in distance learning during the January surge). With health and safety protocols in place, the district did not record its first positive COVID-19 case until late December and throughout the school year have had nine recorded student cases and five staff cases with no on-site transmissions.

Many teachers prefaced their comments by saying that they were blessed and grateful to be at R. Roger Rowe, where they appreciated the parent community and loved their students: “My life is golden when I’m in the classroom with my kiddos,” said second grade teacher Jennifer Olson.

However, this school year was one filled with hardships in which many teachers were asked to go above and beyond. Due to statewide sub shortages, teacher Heidi Moreno said they were asked to “slug it out”, teaching students in the classroom and at home “without proper training”. Teachers also had less prep time for their increased workloads and due to the safety protocols, they were responsible for student supervision starting at 7:45 a.m.

“We will continue to slug it out…our children are thriving but we are not,” Moreno said. “We will slug it out because we love what we do and we love our students and we know that our job is to do what is best for kids. We are simply asking to be treated as professionals.”

In 2019, R. Roger Rowe teachers received a 4% salary increase for the 2019-2020 school year and a 2% salary increase retroactive to July 1, 2018. Last year, Superintendent Donna Tripi’s contract was extended through June 2023, increasing her annual salary by 7.8%.

The budget shows a surplus for 2020-21 and the district projected to have a $155,168 surplus in 2021-22. The district is also in the process of applying for additional Title I and Title II federal funding, The funding is restricted in its use and is provided for services and programs for students who are at risk of not meeting the state standards at their grade levels. If approved, the district will also be eligible to receive one-time federal funding for COVID-19 relief.

Teachers said that fair compensation is one way for the district to meet its priority to attract, retain and develop highly-qualified teachers. They asked for a salary increase that reflects the cost of living increase in San Diego and is comparable to surrounding school districts.

In neighboring Solana Beach School District they said there is a 5% difference in the salary scale and in Del Mar Union, the salaries are 4-7% greater. They pointed out that in the Sweetwater Union High School District, teachers received reopening bonuses including a one-time 7% pay increase for educators who taught virtually for most of the year.

“During a year when teachers went above and beyond under stressful and constantly fluctuating working conditions, putting our families and loved ones at risk, we should at least be equitably compensated,” said first grade teacher Joy Mendoza.

The district does not comment on the ongoing negotiations with the Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association. According to teachers, the district has proposed a 2% off-schedule payment as a compensation package, up from 1% that was offered at the beginning of negotiations.

Teacher Steve Riviere said listening to the comments from his colleagues made him proud to be a member of the Rancho Santa Fe staff.

“I hope that the school board will do everything it can to be kind, to be generous and to take this opportunity to say ‘Thank you’,” he said.