Following an outcry from teachers, parents and students, Morgan Hill Unified School District officials have changed course and decided last week that they will pay local educators what is customary when they take on an extra class period.
The concerns started to boil up after MHUSD administrators announced this summer that the daily schedule at Live Oak and Sobrato high schools would increase from six periods to seven for the 2022-23 school year.
Traditionally, full-time high school teachers at MHUSD have been contracted to teach five periods a day, with one prep period; and they are given an option to teach an extra period for extra pay. For at least the last 20 years, the district would pay teachers 20% of their salary for an extra period, according to teachers and district officials.
However, at the beginning of the 2022 fall quarter, the district told teachers they would be paid an hourly rate to teach an extra period—an amount that equates to substantially less than one-fifth of their salary. The result is that existing full-time teachers on staff at the high schools declined to teach an extra period, leaving administrators to fill those slots with substitutes who lack adequate credentials and experience, according to members of the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers.
Although only four full-time teachers were affected by the situation, more than a dozen educators at the Oct. 18 MHUSD Board of Trustees meeting lined up in solidarity with their fellow MHFT members to encourage officials to change their mind. Some parents and community members joined the refrain to detail the impact on students’ education in classrooms that are filled beyond capacity and lack meaningful instruction from substitute teachers.
“The precedent has always been that teachers are paid 20% for additional work that an additional class period is,” Sobrato High English teacher Avery Unterreiner said. “The fact the district is rejecting this precedent this year feels like a very clear statement about how our expertise, our skills, our credentials and our effort are valued.”
District officials said they heard the teachers’ complaints loud and clear, and did not intend the reduced pay rate for extra periods as a sign of disrespect.
MHUSD Superintendent Dr. Carmen Garcia said shortly after the Oct. 18 meeting, the district notified the MHFT that it would revert to tradition and pay teachers an additional 20% of their salary for an extra period, effective immediately.
“One of the things that attracted me to Morgan Hill is that Morgan Hill is a family,” said Garcia, who joined MHUSD in spring of 2021. “Families often have disagreements but the importance of continuing to work collaboratively and listen to each other is paramount. I am proud of our Morgan Hill team that comes together to resolve issues.”
MHFT President Jim Levis, a teacher at Britton Middle School, said the district’s teachers were glad to hear that MHUSD officials changed their mind.
“We are very pleased that the district agreed that’s the way it should be done.” Levis said. “There’s not a lot of these positions (that are affected) but we thought it incredibly important to be consistent to go along with what has been (the practice) for the last 25-30 years.”
District officials declined to offer details about how or why the decision was initially made to depart from extra-period salary customs. MHUSD Board of Education President John Horner said it is “unfortunate” that teachers interpreted the decision as an insult.
“Intentions and outcome are not always the same thing,” Horner said this week. “This wasn’t received the way it was intended. We stepped back to the old practice.”
Horner added that the dialogue highlights the “bigger issue” of teachers’ pay in Morgan Hill and the surrounding region, where costs of living rank among the highest in the world. With a teacher shortage plaguing districts throughout California, the need to offer competitive salaries locally has become even more urgent.
According to a salary comparison chart posted on MHUSD’s website in response to the recent complaints, a first-year teacher at MHUSD makes about $68,000 per year. Among the seven South Bay districts highlighted in the comparison, Santa Clara Unified pays the highest at about $81,000 for a first-year teacher; and Gilroy Unified pays the lowest at $60,000.
Also since the Oct. 18 board meeting, district officials and Levis confirmed that MHUSD and the MHFT have reached a tentative agreement on a new contract for the teachers. Both parties were reluctant to discuss details because the agreement has not been officially accepted, but Garcia and Horner said the teachers are guaranteed to receive a salary raise of at least 9% in the new contract—equal to the raise accepted earlier this year by Morgan Hill’s Classified Employees union.
“Historically, we have given some of the biggest pay raises” in the region, Horner added.
Levis said MHFT members will vote on the tentative new contract over the next two weeks, and the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on its approval Nov. 15.
Impact on the classroom
The local educators’ concerns over their pay have also underscored how the ongoing teacher shortage has affected students’ education in Morgan Hill.
A band class at Jackson Academy of Math and Music started the school year with upwards of 100 students in one period—leaving little space to move around and not enough instruments for every student to play. Garcia said the district is actively recruiting for a second full-time band teacher at JAMM, and hopes to fill that position “as soon as possible.”
Joy Hauge, a parent of a local high school student, expressed similar concerns at the Oct. 18 board meeting with her son’s woodshop class—one of the extra periods that lacked a credentialed teacher. Her son’s class has “gone from having no teacher, to a campus supervisor, to subs, to long-term sub or (they’re) even sent to the library” to do homework, Hauge said.
There are currently more than a dozen teacher and paraprofessional positions posted for hiring in MHUSD, according to the website edjoin.org.