Photo by Chandler Braxton

With high rates of inflation making headlines this summer — recent data shows  the June 2021 to June 2022 inflation rate hit a staggering 9.1% — Santa Monica school staff have worked to ensure wages are keeping pace.

On Thursday, July 21, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education approved new rates for contracts going into the 2022-23 school year, with teachers earning 10% wage increases. Teachers will also see a 0.57% salary increase as part of “step and column” increases, which essentially provide increases to salaries in a “step” program to incentivize teachers to retain employment with the District. The raises are retroactive back to Jun 2021.

The 20-page collective bargaining disclosure was the result of negotiations between the SMMUSD and SMMCTA (Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association) in May 2022. 

According to the contract, the salary increases will add an additional $6.661 million to District expenses. 

“The context of our negotiations took place in an increasingly difficult employment market, where the district is competing with public and private employers who are increasing salaries in order to fill vacant positions or retain employees in their workforces,” Assistant Superintendent Mark Kelly told the Board. “The District’s last raise was 2.25 [percent] on-schedule raise in 2019 -22. And it was only on the base salary, and did not include any increases to other forms of compensation such as stipends, established hourly and substitute teacher pay.”

In addition to salary increases, the new contract amendments show substitute teachers’ daily rates increased 14.8% from $183 to $210 per day.

As of July 18, the SMMUSD website indicated the District was recruiting for about two dozen certificated positions including 14 salaried staff members, most with salaries offered between about $51,000 to around $85,000 depending on the position, plus applicants’ experience and credentials. 

State law requires school districts to prove they can meet financial obligations before they approve salary increases, though a piece of legislation passed in 1991 called AB 1200. SMMUSD staff indicated the contract amendments meet the requirements, with Superintendent Ben Drati and Assistant Superintendent Melody Canady signing a June 29 document that stated, “The District has ample available reserves in regard to the affordability of this agreement.”

During a school board meeting back in October 2021, District administrators described a staffing shortage across the district, which SMMCTA President Claudia Bautista-Nicholas said was due in part to the long commutes teachers were forced to undergo as salaries did not allow them to live in Santa Monica. 

The same concern was addressed on Thursday, with Drati saying teachers were often driving from as far away as Oxnard and the Valley, who would jump on opportunities to take jobs closer to their homes, even mid-year.

“We think this is definitely going to keep us more competitive … and attract and retain staff that we need,” Drati said, “and they’re their most important assets that we have to educate our students, so I definitely endorse this and I hope you will too.”

The School Board voted unanimously, 7-0, to approve the raises. 

Wage increases are not guaranteed every year. In 2014, the Daily Press reported there had been a four-year freeze in wage hikes for teachers from 2008-14. At the time of that article eight years ago, a first year teacher with a basic college degree made $44,341 annually in the SMMUSD, according to the salary schedule on the district’s website. A teacher with 18 years of experience and 70 or more graduate level semester units could make $89,135. 

As of 2019, the same entry level teacher would earn $50,980 to begin, and the teacher with 18 years of experience and 70 or more graduate level semester units would be offered $102,483.

If approved, the 10.57% wage increase would mean first year teachers with bachelor’s degrees would earn $56,368 and the experienced teacher would get $113,315.

In addition, management positions also received the same 10% raise, with six of seven board members voting to approve the increase. One board member, Laurie Lieberman, did not cast a vote due to exiting the meeting for a family emergency, but other board members said she had been in support of approval as well.

A similar wage increase for classified employees — like security guards, bus drivers and cafeteria workers — was set to move forward at the Thursday, Sept. 1, board meeting.