California teachers call on their districts for contractual commitment to community schools

Credit: Ali Tadayon/Edsource

Teachers, students and parents rally outside a West Contra Costa Unified school board meeting Wednesday urging the district to agree to a teachers union contract that would, in part, include commitments to the community schools program

As California dishes out $4.1 billion to school districts through 2031 to transform thousands of campuses into full-service community schools, teachers are demanding that parents, community leaders as well as educators have a say in how a district’s allocation is spent and that the initiative is sustainable in the long-term.

West Contra Costa Unified administrators say they also want the community to have a say in the program’s rollout, but the district and the teachers union, United Teachers of Richmond, are at odds over how to formalize the community input. United Teachers of Richmond, or UTR, has proposed making it a part of their contract, but district officials would prefer to do it through a memorandum of understanding. Besides pay, the disagreement on community schools is one of the top issues holding up months of contract negotiations between UTR and the district.

“To make the community school strategy transformational, we need to have the strongest accountability measure, which would be a legally binding contract,” said Francisco Ortiz, vice president of the United Teachers of Richmond.

UTR isn’t the only local teachers union currently seeking protections for community schools in their contracts. The San Diego Education Association, on Monday, proposed ensuring that community schools at San Diego Unified would continue to be funded if state, federal or outside funds expire, SDEA President Kyle Weinberg told EdSource. The union is also proposing that educators, parents, students and community leaders have a say in school site-level decisions for community schools, and that the district hire teachers to serve as community schools coaches. The proposal also calls on the district to hire an educator to guide the district on implementing integrated student and family supports.

“This is a big deal that’s larger than education unions,” Weinberg said. “Our proposing contract language around community schools reflects that this is a priority for us not only as local unions but also as a state union to transform how we do education in our highest need school communities.”

How UTR and the district settle the issue could sway district contract negotiations between other districts and their teachers unions throughout the state.

Contract versus MOU

West Contra Costa Unified, which serves Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo and surrounding cities, started adopting the community schools model in 2007 and ramped up efforts around 2015. Now the district has 22 community schools and was awarded more than $30 million through the Community Schools Partnership Program to continue its services — the fifth-largest community schools grant to be given by the state.

Chief Academic Officer LaResha Huffman, at a Jan.11 school board meeting, said West Contra Costa Unified seeks to expand the community schools program to include more schools in the coming years and that the district intends to keep the program operating long-term.

The sticking point between the district and the union’s bargaining proposals is what consequences would come if decisions were made outside the governance model. If the model is codified in a legally binding contract, the union could file grievances and take other legal action if something isn’t right. Memorandum of understanding agreements, or MOU’s, are harder to enforce, Ortiz said.

The district’s concern is agreeing to contract language without guaranteed ongoing funding, spokeswoman Elizabeth Sanders said. The California Community Schools Partnership Program was funded in the state’s 2021-22 and 2022-23 budgets, when state tax revenues were high. Now, the state projects a $22.5 billion shortfall in the general fund. While Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2023-24 budget proposal maintains funding for the program, the state’s budget gap and the program’s long duration put it in a precarious position as the next budget comes together. Additionally, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, in November, urged legislators to “conduct oversight” on new programs such as the community schools partnership to determine their effectiveness. The LAO only recommended cuts this year to the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program, which provides funding for after-school and summer school enrichment programs for TK-6th grades.

“When long-term contract agreements are established regarding programs that have short-term funding, both labor and management are put at risk of landing in a bad situation,” Sanders said.

UTR and the district are currently negotiating a new contract through a third-party mediator after the district declared an impasse in November. UTR members, in December, voted in favor of authorizing a strike should talks bog down. If the mediator isn’t able to bring about a resolution, the parties will enter the fact-finding process. After that, if UTR’s negotiation team still doesn’t see the district moving toward a satisfactory settlement, they can call for a strike.

Hundreds of teachers, as well as students, parents and supportive community members rallied at West Contra Costa Unified’s school board meeting Wednesday. Several teachers said they hope to avoid a strike but are prepared to act the district doesn’t budge on the contract.


UTR’s latest proposal calls for a community schools “support collaborative” to consist of 20 members with four co-chairs: one from the district, one from UTR, a parent who is not an employee or a contractor with the district, and another member to be elected by one of the district’s advisory committees. The four co-chairs will appoint five members each to the collaborative every year under the proposal.

The collaborative would act as a steering committee, meaning it doesn’t have the power to make financial decisions but can offer guidance and recommendations to the district’s school board, which would decide on funding.

The proposal also calls for “action collaboratives” at each community school to guide decisions at the school site level. Those groups would consist of 50% family members, community members and students and 50% school staff, in addition to the principal and community schools director.

The district had already formed a community schools steering committee last year when it received the grant money. Ortiz, who is on the steering committee, said it has been having meetings but “hasn’t really been formalized.”

UTR’s proposal also bars community schools from closing, merging with other schools or having a charter school move onto the campus.

While the district may be hesitant to make community schools commitments beyond the funding it’s already guaranteed by the state, Ortiz said community schools were always intended to be long-term programs. UTR wants to be sure the initiative doesn’t lose steam if West Contra Costa gets a new superintendent or if there’s another shift in district administration.

“We really want to make sure that this is something that is sustainable long term and that’s not going to be contingent upon which administration is going to come in and not make this a priority because this is definitely a priority for the state of California, which is leading the entire nation with this investment in community schools.”

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California teachers call on their districts for contractual commitment to community schools

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