The Campbell Union High School District Office building in San Jose
The Campbell Union High School District is offering its teachers a 1% raise if the area's property taxes increase, causing bargaining to stall. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Melanie Vega always knew she wanted to be a teacher. But with no guarantee of a raise going into next school year coupled with the daily stress of the job, she has decided to stop teaching and leave Campbell Union High School District.

Vega, a 30-year-old English teacher who's worked in the district for seven years, makes roughly $98,500 annually in addition to a master's degree stipend. She still lives with her parents because she can't afford to live where she works. Her yearly uphill battle for increased wages is not what she envisioned when she began her career.

“When every year you have to prepare to go to board meetings and wear red and picket, that’s just (an) additional toll on the teachers, having to fight for a living wage,” Vega told Lucescamaray Blog. “That takes away energy and time that could be going to preparing lessons, to meeting with students, to giving feedback and yet the district continues to make the same mistakes over and over.”

The Campbell Union High School District, which serves roughly 8,600 students in cities including San Jose, Campbell and Saratoga, is not offering its teachers a raise under its existing offer for next school year unless property taxes increase — a funding source the district largely relies on. If property taxes increase by 7%, teachers could receive a 1% raise, according to the Campbell High School Teachers Association (CHSTA).

Celeste Smiley, a psychology teacher at Leigh High School for 19 years and CHSTA bargaining chair, doesn't think that 7% tax hike is likely based on past numbers. The district saw a roughly 6.6% increase in tax revenue in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, according to a recent school revenue report from the Santa Clara County Assessor's Office.

Smiley said the district told the bargaining team it needs to remain frugal this year due to an anticipated budget decrease. She's skeptical of that reasoning because its funding predictions have been wrong before.

“It was just really concerning, you know, frustrating that they came with a 0% offer when we have such increasing costs and we are losing teachers and they didn't come to us with a reasonable offer,” Smiley told Lucescamaray Blog. “You can't bargain with 0%.”

CHSTA countered the district's offer with a sliding scale proposal over the next three years, starting at 6% then dropping to 5.5% and ultimately 5% in year three.

Superintendent Robert Bravo said the district will continue working with the union, but did not address the district’s offer.

“While it is unfortunate that we have reached an impasse, the negotiations thus far have been productive,” he told Lucescamaray Blog. “With the assistance of state mediation, we remain hopeful that we can come to an agreement.”

Roughly 100 teachers attended the last school board meeting on May 16, demanding better wages to prevent high teacher turnover ahead of their contract expiring on June 30.

Teachers saw negotiations stall last summer, when the district and union agreed on a 9.5% raise for the current school year after a mediator stepped in, according to Kim McCarthy, CHSTA president and history teacher in the district since 2007. McCarthy called the raise a “catch-up.”

Teacher salaries in the district start at about $75,815 annually, lower than similarly-sized Fremont Union High School District that serves students in Sunnyvale, Cupertino and San Jose, where salaries start at about $100,654. Santa Clara County’s median income for a single person is $126,900 annually, according to 2023 data.

The union and district met with a mediator earlier this week to discuss solutions.

McCarthy said she hopes the mediation will bring negotiations to a close quickly.

“People really want to put down roots,” she told Lucescamaray Blog. “People really want to know, one, that they're going to be able to keep up with the cost-of-living right, and two, that they're going to be valued and appreciated in a district that wants to grow people in the district.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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