After weeks of picketing and months of stalled salary negotiations, the teachers at Campbell Union High School District have lost faith in their superintendent.
Nearly 85 percent of teachers have signed onto a vote of no confidence regarding Superintendent Robert Bravo.
Dozens of teachers and students from Branham, Del Mar, Westmont, Prospect and Leigh protested before the start of the board meeting this past Thursday with signs listing the names of the 380 teachers who signed the vote of no confidence.
The sea of people dressed in red to represent the teachers union then funneled into the meeting to make their voices heard and demand that the board not extend Bravo’s contract.
“I’ve always wanted Dr. Bravo to succeed in his position,” said Prospect High School history teacher and teachers union president Kim McCarthy. “And so, I take really no pleasure in presenting to you this vote of confidence in his leadership.”
Teachers read the vote of no confidence out loud during public comment, detailing why they no longer believe Bravo is a good leader for them or their students.
But on Thursday, despite more than an hour of public comment, the board of trustees unanimously approved adding an additional year to Bravo’s contract to expire in 2024 instead of 2023.
‘A slap in the face’
“It was like a slap in the face,” McCarthy said. “I never expected them to do something so tone deaf as to extend his contract for another year when it wasn’t expiring anytime soon.”
The board of trustees did not publicly discuss why they voted in favor of the contract extension almost 20 months before the contract was set to expire.
But before bringing the item to a vote, board president Kalen Gallagher thanked students and teachers for voicing their opinions.
“Teachers, thank you for the work you’re doing. You’re really the rock stars, the heroes of the community,” Gallagher said to teachers at the board meeting. “I know you’re shaking your head but that is something I think every board member believes.”
He then thanked Bravo, who has been superintendent for five years, for his contributions and time.
“Even though it’s not easy to sit up here … I know you’re going to turn around tomorrow and go work on behalf of students and kids and teachers,” Gallagher said to Bravo.
Then when he asked if there was any other discussion regarding the contract, trustees fell silent.
The two student representatives on the board chose to exercise their provisional votes to say no to Bravo’s contract extension.
Teachers in the room walked out, yelling “this is abhorrent” or “this is a joke” and laughing in disbelief after the vote.
The root cause of the problem, McCarthy said, is that Bravo and the board are not listening to teachers or meeting them where they are at.
The most recent example is the ongoing contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, Campbell Union High School Teachers Association (CHSTA), she said.
The inability to reach an agreement has resulted in teachers making $500 less per month than they did last year.
Teachers have been asking for their pay from last year to be restored in addition to a 4 percent raise to keep up with cost-of-living increase.
It’s a modest ask in the teachers’ opinion — considering the district currently sits on a $48 million reserve. But in the district’s eyes, it’s an ask that would quickly run through the reserves, putting them in a vulnerable position if economic hardship arrives.
But McCarthy said “this isn’t just about this most current negotiation cycle. It goes much deeper than that.”
“We’ll come to a settlement at some point. But what will be much harder is rebuilding that relationship with those 380 teachers.”Kim McCarthy, CHSTA president
She said the emails sent by the district, in which claims by teachers were called “erroneous” made teachers out to be liars — breaking the trust between the district and its teachers.
“We’ll come to a settlement at some point,” McCarthy said. “But what will be much harder is rebuilding that relationship with those 380 teachers.”
She also said the district would have to repair the relationship and trust with students as well — especially after hundreds of students at all five high schools walked out of their classes in late October to stand in solidarity with teachers during salary negotiations.
“Students were devastated … a lot of them were in tears after the vote,” McCarthy said.
“I’ve always felt so supported in my school community. And yet now I feel as though the people that are in charge … do not actually care about us at all,” Prospect High School senior Christina Hughes said.
Chelsea Follett, an English teacher at Branham, asked the board how she could recommend incoming teachers work at CUHSD when morale was low because of leadership.
“I work every weekend, every evening, and yet find myself pinching pennies for the end of each month — it’s not a good way to live,” Follett said. “How can I tell (my teacher’s assistant) to start a career in a district where she will likely have to protest on Union Avenue just to maybe convince the district to pay her enough so she can afford her rent?”
In the Branham Bear Witness, a student-run newsroom at Branham High School, Bravo was quoted as calling the vote unfair.
“It was unfair with the idea that if we don’t compensate the teachers a particular amount, it means we don’t care,” Bravo said. “We can disagree on how much the district can afford while still living in its budget.”
But to McCarthy and other teachers the vote of no confidence was a long time coming, with many teachers asking for this vote for more than a year.
“There was such overwhelming verbal demand on the union leadership to bring this vote forward that I think to not do it would have been a failure of leadership,” McCarthy said. “It really was what teachers wanted.”
The district and CHSTA entered an impasse in late September and will begin contract negotiations for teachers with a state mediator on Nov. 15. The contract will define the salary of teachers for the 2021-22 school year. Since the year is almost halfway through, teachers will likely get retroactive pay once a salary increase is approved.