District classified staff receive long-awaited wage raise

After months of negotiations between SDUHSD and the California School Employees Association, the district’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a 4% raise to classified staff wages at a meeting on March 15.

This comes after an initial 1.63% wage increase approved at a Jan. 31 board meeting, which raised the district’s salaries in accordance with state minimum wage: $15.50. At the same meeting, several classified employees — school workers who are not required to have certification, including nutrition services employees and grounds workers — asked the board to raise salaries to reflect increased workloads and the rising cost of living in San Diego.

“We shouldn’t be having to beg for minimum wage,” Naomi Diehl, a health technician at San Dieguito Academy, said at the Jan. 31 meeting.

Despite the 4% raise, SDUHSD classified staff do not feel it is enough. The district’s entrance wages continue to be lower than others in the county.

Other classified staff, like TPHS campus supervisor Bob McKeon and administrative assistant Yesenia Isario, believe their wages are adequate.

“I sincerely consider it a privilege to have a job that I get compensated fairly for,” Isario said.

However, many classified employees correlate a rise in resignations to their wages. According to Susan Gray, the SDUHSD director of classified personnel, the district saw 38 resignations in the 2021-22 school year and 47 in the 2022-23 school year so far. These resignations account for nearly one-sixth of the classified staff force, according to Diegueno Middle School plant supervisor and CSEA negotiator Carlos Magana.

“We have had more vacancies now … than in the 20 years I’ve been here,” Carmel Valley Middle School administrative assistant and CSEA negotiator Roberta Blank, said.

According to Jon Hall, an SDUHSD bus mechanic and CSEA negotiator, the district currently only has 19 bus drivers — a shortage of 22.

“We just got 23 new buses, but don’t have anyone to drive them,” Hall said.

SDUHSD technician and CSEA Chapter President Matt Colwell said that classified staff wages do not provide much incentive for workers to stay in the district.

“The low starting wage of a number of job classifications makes it hard for the district to recruit new folks,” Colwell said.

TPHS Campus Supervisor Jose Reynoso agreed.

“If someone can work at McDonald’s and then come here and only for a couple of bucks more have all of these responsibilities, where is the incentive?” Renoso said.

Some TPHS students find this somewhat ironic.

“It is ridiculous that 16-year-olds working down the street make more than the individuals that are the foundation of our school,” Camille Kraft (11) said.

It is difficult for classified staff in SDUHSD to live in the district, according to Blank. Therefore, employees must make long commutes to work, further disincentivizing working for the district rather than a similar paying job closer to home.

“[Blank] is one of the highest-paid classified members on her site, and yet she qualified for low-income housing. What does that say?” Magana said.

Along with this staffing shortage, classified staff feel that they have had to shoulder a greater workload.

“The stress and the pressure has been huge, and it isn’t compensated or recognized,” Blank said.

However, SDUHSD Communication Coordinator Miquel Jacobs said that staffing shortage is not an issue unique to SDUHSD, but a nationwide problem.

“SDUHSD continues to work on its recruitment efforts in traditional and creative ways to ensure that we continue our reputation as a high-performing district,” he said.

Many classified employees are seeking equity in their wages that align proportionally with those of teachers.

“It is discouraging when we learn that the teachers are the number one highest paid in the county and the classified staff are not,” Magana said. “We provide services for our students like a nurturing environment and we just wanted to be treated the same as our counterparts.”

Aidan Wong (12) said that classified staff, “are an integral part of TPHS. The fact that they’re being paid less than other districts in this area is frankly a disgrace.”

Looking to the future, SDUHSD classified staff hope that the district will continue to keep salaries competitive to the rest of San Diego county.

“Working here you never know what tomorrow may hold … The wages need to be better so that we aren’t living paycheck to paycheck. ” Reynoso said.

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