Teacher shortage looms over negotiations between Sacramento City Unified and union

The Sacramento City Unified School District, its school board and the Sacramento City Teachers Association are negotiating terms from their last agreement they settled on after an eight-day strike last spring.

The parties agreed to negotiate three topics again before the 2023-24 school year: staff salaries, class sizes and when to hire new teachers.

Sacramento City Unified currently has 78 full-time equivalent positions still vacant, according to district officials. The vacancies have caused many of the district’s 40,000 students to be without a teacher for several months, as the district relies on long-term substitutes to cover the positions.

The problem isn’t a just a local one. The national teacher shortage is deemed a crisis by many educators and it has impacted school districts across the region.

About 20,000 teaching positions are still vacant across California – 2,300 of which are across Sacramento County’s 13 school districts. The coronavirus pandemic, a wave of retirements and other factors contributed to the shortage. In comparison, San Juan Unified has about 35 to 40 vacant teaching positions next school year.

Sacramento City Unified officials proposed they would “enhance hiring and assignment timelines and procedures to give our district earlier and increased opportunities to fill teaching vacancies,” according to its announcement.

Most districts post new positions and recruit new teachers in February, while Sacramento City Unified starts the hiring process after May, leaving them with a much smaller pool of candidates, according to the district.

“This is only part of what is needed to address our high vacancy number,” said Sacramento City Unified spokesman Al Goldberg. “It will be significant in moving toward that goal, but is not the only answer as there are many factors involved.”

Those vacancies have direct impacts on class sizes. The SCTA also said more needs to be done.

“The staffing crisis in SCUSD is far more serious than a few tweaks to the hiring process is going to fix,”” read a statement from the SCTA.

“Staff have no confidence in the current superintendent to address the real issues in the district that will ensure that every student has a teacher in the classroom: improved learning conditions for students and salaries and benefits necessary to recruit and retain certificated and classified staff in Sac City.”

The district stated they recognized how challenging teacher vacancies are on students.

“We know starting the school year with a teacher assigned to every classroom is vital for all students and have heard from many families how disruptive it is when this does not happen,” read a statement from Sacramento City Unified.

Other school districts are also addressing the shortage. San Juan Unified told The Sacramento Bee they are working to credential teachers who had emergency permits this year. And 40 student teachers will be graduating with their credentials and can apply to fill vacancies next year.

“We have been proactive in keeping vacancy numbers low through our teacher residency program,” said San Juan Unified spokeswoman Raj Rai. “We currently have 14 staff members that went through the teacher residency program that we will be hiring in teaching positions for next school year.”