Trustees Ron Woolf and Donna Ruebusch are retired teachers whose vast education careers, spanning a combined 60-plus years, were all spent with one district: Morgan Hill Unified.
Teachers union president Gemma Abels pointed that out when she addressed the school board and MHUSD leadership at the Sept. 20 meeting in regards to the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers’ ongoing contract negotiations.
“We are asking for compensation that allows teachers to stay in Morgan Hill for a career as our trustees, Ruebusch and Woolf, have done,” said Abels during MHFT’s allotted time at the board meeting. “It’s a pretty simple equation. We want compensation for certificated employees in Morgan Hill to be enough so that we can afford to remain educators here.”
The local teachers union is currently operating under a three-year contract, one that came with a 5 percent raise and was approved by a 6-0 board vote in June 2015. However, in the spring, they started new negotiations on designated articles of that agreement, which runs through 2018, including compensation.
The school board is not part of the contract negotiations. That is between representatives from the school district leadership, including Superintendent Steve Betando, and the teachers union team that Abels heads up. The school board, however, must ratify the contract once agreed upon by the parties.
“We believe that teacher compensation in Morgan Hill Unified School District is a critical issue and is an issue that affects our students,” Abels continued. “We’re not asking to equal Santa Clara Unified or Eastside Union in pay or benefits. We are asking for compensation that would enable us to attract fully credentialed teachers instead of the 16 interns we hired this year.”
A statewide teacher shortage, coupled with rising home prices and rental costs, have impacted districts throughout California and particularly the Bay Area down through South County. With demand outnumbering the supply of qualified teachers, MHUSD, like other districts, has been forced to use Provisional Internship Permits, which allows for individuals with backgrounds in education but not proper credentialing to be hired while simultaneously working toward their education degree.
“We remember members of this district office vehemently objecting to the charter schools’ lack of qualified teachers,” said Abels, referencing the district’s analysis of certain charter school petitions that were later denied by the school board. “We are asking for compensation so that our young teachers and veteran teachers do not begin the job search every February and March, and every year make the decision to leave valued colleagues, students and families in order to provide for their own family.”
Teachers requesting pay hike
Back in May, a rush of teachers pleaded with district leaders and school board trustees to help rework their contract and boost their salaries. They shared an array of economic hardships that go along with teaching and trying to live in an area that has turned into a bedroom community for well-compensated employees of Silicon Valley’s high-tech industry.
Before Abels’ turn at the podium Sept. 20, third-grade teacher Janet Lammers of Barrett Elementary School made her own public statement. She pointed to the disparity between the salaries of MHUSD’s top brass compared to its teacher workforce. Earlier in closed session, the board voted 4-3 to give the superintendent a positive performance evaluation that is coupled with a 3 percent pay raise as part of his contract. Ruebusch, Woolf, Trustees Bob Benevento and Tom Arnett voted in favor, while Board President Gino Borgioli and Trustees Rick Badillo and David Gerard cast opposing votes.
“The difference between the superintendent’s current salary and a teacher who has worked in this district for 30 plus years is $146,452,” said the 11th year educator. “The increases in salary for our superintendent as well as assistant superintendents are voted in by the board. I respectfully ask the board carefully consider any future increases you approve to these high paying positions in light of the current low salaries teachers are earning in this district.”
A first-year MHUSD teacher salary starts at $50,365.35, which is more than neighboring Gilroy Unified School District ($49,748 first year) but lower than other local school districts in Santa Clara County such as San Jose Unified ($54,958), Eastside Union ($55,349), Los Gatos Union ($55,053) and Fremont Union ($60,125). The wage gap increases with years of experience and the take-home pay magnifies with other districts covering medical benefits with little to no cost to the employee.
Betando’s salary is $248,010.20 with the latest positive review bonus.
Lammers went on to say that a former MHUSD colleague (who was one of about 55 to leave the district after the end of last school year) moved to another school district, was only credited with 12 of her 20-plus years of service with MHUSD, and is still at a higher salary.
Meanwhile, Abels told the school board of her fellow MHUSD teachers who have taken on second jobs just to get by.
“We are asking for enough compensation so when I call for an Uber driver, one of my members doesn’t come pick me up,” Abels said. “We are asking for enough compensation so that one of my members is not also bagging my groceries at Trader Joe’s.”
Live Oak High School teacher Matt Barry was featured in a Sept. 7 article, authored by Alissa Quart and posted on, that documented the plight of American schoolteachers. Barry, whose wife is also a teacher, works for the ride-sharing company on nights and weekends while grading student work between trips to help supplement his income.
While compensation is something that continues to be negotiated, the two sides were able to come to an agreement on continuing full-day transitional kindergarten and kindergarten, as well as the sixth grade teachers’ move to the middle school, according to Abels. Discussions also are ongoing on issues around leaves and hours.
“Our members and our team are resolved to listen, to find alternatives and to settle on a contract that makes teaching in Morgan Hill viable, sustainable and actually sensible for all of us,” Abels concluded.

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