Tensions rise outside MHS classrooms

February 23, 2024 /

Over the last few years cities everywhere have been affected by the dwindling amounts of teachers willing to work in public education, also known as a national teacher turnover. However, California has been especially affected by this turnover. 

California is ranked 47th among all states for its teacher-to-student ratio, according to a study concluded by the California School Boards Association. This has led to protests or strikes demanding better treatment for educators everywhere, the most recent being the California State University (CSU) strike.

Unions are the formation of workers who band together to ensure a voice in their workplace. In these organizations, workers demand better pay, healthcare, or other benefits that they deem necessary, and do not allow injustices to have a role in the workplace. Protests also tend to occur as it is the most effective way for workers to have their voices heard in their communities.

Kimberely Whealy-Kennemer, president of the McFarland Teachers Association (MTA), said, “Every three years, the entire contract is up for renegotiation.  This school year, the only articles open for negotiation were salary, health and welfare benefits, and transfers/vacancies.  The deal that we reached with the district included changes to all three articles. When bargaining first began this fall, we were only attempting to reach a one-year agreement.  Because this negotiation cycle was not resolved quickly, it became practical to come to a two-year agreement.  As a result, we will not have to negotiate again next fall.”

The meditation between the district and MTA resulted in February 8’s protest in front of the McFarland Unified School District located next to the only post office in the town as mediators were brought in to discuss the wants and needs of McFarland educators. Educators from K-12 could be seen carrying picket signs that say phrases like: “Recognize, Retain, Recruit, and Respect” and “Shame on you, our teachers deserve more respect.”

 Other signs could be seen in Spanish, translating to, “Support our teachers.” 

“This year, our bargaining team and the district had three rounds (days) of bargaining.  During negotiations, both sides sit down at a table and try to reach an agreement.  One side proposes,   and the other side makes a counterproposal.  This process goes back and forth until the two sides can reach a compromise.  This year, the two sides could not reach an agreement, so we moved on to the next step, mediation,” explained Whealy-Kennmer. 

Dario Diaz, the principal of McFarland High School also made a comment on the situation, revealing that there is a team fo people who are trying to find their way through this disagreement to find a number that will mutually satisfy both parties.

“Potentially they can go to a strike, but that’s far away and there’s some layers to try to soften all these things before a strike is imminent. I would say that both parties wouldn’t want that because the kids need us to all be in one mind. I do not see a strike happening, I think that there will be a resolution here, shortly,” said Diaz.

The McFarland Teachers Association posted a black screen with white lettering on their Instagram page during their February 8 protest, saying the following, “Until the district can come to us with an offer that treats our members with the dignity and respect we deserve, we will not reach an agreement. McFarland students deserve highly qualified teachers. We need to stand together.”

This post made it clear that they will only agree to an agreement that they deem fair to them, as educators. 

“It could affect the kids. Teachers can feel undervalued, and some of them can feel that if they feel that they will not be full on, mind, emotion, and passion. All the things that require teachers to be who they are, they can be distracted so all the energy that is required of a teacher to prepare and to be ready to go to be optimized and effective in that classroom, can otherwise be concerning if that teacher is focused on other things other than pedagogy. Thats one way that can affect the students is ineffective teaching because of distraction. Another way is that kids can begin to feel a little uneasy… because the cure for anxiety is clarity,” mentioned Diaz as the student body has now become, yet another looming question as to how they can be affected in the classroom as tensions rise outside the classroom.

Currently, the district and members of MTA have landed on an agreement in which both parties get what they believe is fair. 

“The association and the district agreed to a 4% salary increase this year (retroactive to July 1) and an additional 1.5% next year.  These increases will be permanently reflected in our salary schedule.  We were also able to secure an improved longevity schedule,” said Whealy-Kennmer. 

On Friday, February 16 MTA posted another black screen with an update to the mediation meeting that had taken place earlier in the day. “Congratulations MTA team, we have reached a tentative agreement with the district. We will be sending out further details this afternoon. Thank you for your efforts and support.” 

The caption on the Instagram post let the public know that a ratification meeting would be happening on February 20 at 3:30 p.m. at Horizon Elementary with in-person voting for MTA members.

This meeting was an opportunity for all members of the McFarland Teachers Association to either agree or veto the agreement set forth by the mediators in the previous meeting. 

“One of the concerns we have as an association is teacher retention.  With school districts around us offering significantly higher pay, our district needs to compete to stem the flow of experienced teachers leaving to pursue better pay from other school districts in the county.  The deal that was reached continues to leave the district on sound financial footing while improving the potential to be able to attract and retain highly qualified teachers to MUSD.  Our students deserve to have access to a qualified, experienced, and stable population of teachers,” added Whealy-Kennmer. 

Teachers and administrators from the district have now resolved the tensions occurring outside the classroom, and as stated previously, will not be re-negotiating in the fall.