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By Gabriella Landeros

More than 300 members of Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association (RPCEA) have been on strike since Thursday, March 10, for an agreement that invests in the recruitment and retention of the quality educators that their students deserve.

RPCEA has been negotiating for months with Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District’s (CRPUSD) management and school board to get them to invest in their students and the educators who support them. But CRPUSD continues to ignore the state-appointed fact-finder’s report, which prioritizes the current teaching and learning conditions of Cotati-Rohnert Park students.

RPCEA President Denise Tranfaglia, English language arts teacher in the district for almost 24 years, has been leading her members to be the best advocates for their students.

“This is a moment of history for RPCEA.”

– RPCEA President Denise Tranfaglia

“This is not a new issue; we have been asking the district for 25 years to plan for us in their budget, and it means a whole lot that this union came together with our community, students, local labor leaders, and labor partners within this district. This fight is so important to me because I love this district, and I want the best educators that I know as my colleagues and friends to stay here. It’s really hard for them to continue to live in one of the most expensive counties in the Bay Area and state and be 15 to 20 percent below the state average. This is a moment we are not going to get again. We need to organize and mobilize, and if we do that, we’ll make students and public education a priority.”

Denise Tranfaglia speaking to educators, students, families, community members, labor leaders, and labor partners during a rally on day one of the strike.

Educators have been urging the CRPUSD management and school board to listen to the fact-finder’s recommendation of a three-year contract with an approximately 14.6 percent on-schedule pay increase. Despite the neutral party’s recommendation, CRPUSD continues to propose off-schedule “bonuses,” shortchanging educators at the expense of Cotati-Rohnert Park students and families.

For RPCEA First Vice President Lisa Bauman, who has been teaching biology for 22 years, the last nine in CRPUSD, it is so important to be out with her colleagues standing together for each other and their students. “Teachers are community, and we form a larger community with students and their families,” said Bauman. “Even though we are out here fighting for livable wages for our teachers, what it really means for our students is that they are not going to see us come and go like a revolving door. We need to be united, and we need to support each other. Almost 50 percent of our members have been teaching five years or less and are new to the teaching profession. Those of us who have been teaching for 20-plus years are fighting for our new educators as much as we are fighting for ourselves. You shouldn’t have to be a professional and ask your parents to help you with your bills. There is a substantial number of new teachers who are working two or three jobs and are getting financial assistance from their families. If teachers can’t afford to live here, they are going to leave.”

“The district needs to make teacher salaries a priority. It’s important to me that we retain and attract quality educators for our students. They deserve the best, and they deserve teachers that don’t have to bring their stress into the classroom. It’s time to change the paradigm for our district, county, and for the state. Thank you to our CTA family for the support, and I hope you never have to be in this position. But if you are, we will be there to support you.”

– RPCEA First Vice President Lisa Bauman

Lisa Bauman on the picket line in front of her school.

Since March 10, hundreds of families and students have been rallying around educators and joining RPCEA on the picket lines for the schools this community deserves.

Second Vice President Emilie King, who has been in the district for nine years and teaches English and history at Technology High School, believes this fight is critically important for students and educators. “We are showing our students what it means to stand up for what is right and how change happens. This fight is so important to me because our profession is in crisis. We see educators leaving, and we need to make sure we can attract and retain the very best educators for our students, because they deserve the best. Public education is the great unifier of our country. It’s what allows us to teach our students how to have civil dialogue and how to make society a better place. Without that, we’re lost. This is love for our students in action right here.”

“To our CTA family: Thank you so much for the support. Hold strong in the negotiations that you’re going through — this is a hard time for all of us, and you all can see that we are doing it and so can you. We’re all in this fight together.”

– RPCEA Second Vice President Emilie King

Emilie King on the picket line in front of her school.

Mary Peterson is close to finishing her 15th year in CRPUSD as a speech-language pathologist at Marguerite Hahn Elementary School and Richard Crane Elementary School. For her, being out on the picket line means educators are unified to say we want better. “Teachers are not making what they should be making to be able to live and make it. We want better, not just for the educators here, but more importantly for our children. I wear two hats because both my children go to school in this district as well, so my biggest fear is that we are going to lose really good teachers, and that’s going to hurt my kids ultimately. This fight is important to me as an educator and for my colleagues to make them feel heard and validated. A better salary does attract better teachers, and I want my kids to have good teachers. We appreciate CTA and all the hard work you are doing to support us.”

Clockwise from top left: First grade teacher Megan Cockrum, Mary Peterson, fourth grade teacher Nikki Diaz, and first grade teacher Meagan Cutler.

Christina Grace has been teaching English language development for 17 years at Rancho Cotate High School. “When I first started, I didn’t have enough money to buy apples for my kids. It’s ridiculous that we are so underpaid in this district. This matters because I’ve mentored numerous teachers, and every two to three years they have to move. We lose teachers after five years because they can’t afford to live here. It’s hard to feel validated right now, and any positive support is really lovely.”

Anna Leemon is in her fourth year of being a chemistry and AP chemistry teacher at Rancho Cotate High School. “Doing this is really hard, because in a way it feels like we are abandoning our students. My first and foremost position is to teach and be a teacher, but I’m not a teacher who pretends that my subject area is the most important thing in the world. There are more important things than chemistry, and one of those is being a citizen, being involved, and standing up for what you believe in. I hope I am being a good role model for my students to learn those skills. I can barely afford my rent as it is, and I constantly feel like an afterthought here. The fact that I can’t afford basic expenses is just unacceptable, and that’s what we’re fighting for.”

Anna Leemon (with megaphone) and Lisa Bauman (right) with the Rancho Cotate High School science and computer science department.

Together with the entire community, RPCEA is calling on the district for a fair and just deal now so educators can continue doing what they love. Stay current on the situation by following RPCEA on Facebook and Instagram. Updates and information, including the fact-finding report, are also available at RPCEA’s Linktree.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help support striking Rohnert Park Cotati educators.

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