San Dieguito’s classified employees seek salary increases

The San Dieguito board meets on Jan. 31.
(Karen Billing)

San Dieguito Union High School District’s classified employees are currently in negotiations for a raise that reflects their increased workloads and the rising cost of living in San Diego County. During public comment at the Jan. 31 board meeting, several classified employees spoke up hoping that the new school board would recognize the important role played by classified staff and show its gratitude for their work with a boost in their paychecks.

“(Classified staff) are the ones that are keeping our schools running smoothly and ensuring our students’ safety and wellbeing,” said Roberta Blank of the district’s school support staff that includes para-educators, custodians, secretaries, food service workers, bus drivers, and landscaping and maintenance crews. “This hard work and commitment should not go unrecognized.”

Naomi Diehl, a health technician at San Dieguito Academy, said that classified staff is paid less than what is needed to support families and, overall, the morale is very low. She said there is a “massive shortage” of classified staff due to positions not being filled, which she believes is a direct response to the pay not keeping up with the cost of living. Members of the transportation staff particularly spoke of being overworked due to a bus driver shortage—the district has 49 buses and only 25 drivers.

The California School Employees Association (CSEA) is fighting for fair and equitable compensation that would help the district attract and retain the best in the field. Rebecca Cheesman, an executive secretary at Earl Warren Middle School and president of CSEA, said they have employees who could walk from their school site to a fast food restaurant and make more money.

That night, the board voted in support of increasing the minimum wage for its classified employees. Effective this year, the minimum wage for workers in California increased to $15.50 per hour and the board approved a 1.64% increase to the classified employees’ salary schedule to reflect the minimum wage increase and to maintain internal alignment between job classifications. The adjustment will have an impact to the district’s budget of $219,367 in 2022-23 and $438,734 the following year.

“I’m convinced that our classified staff is underpaid…We can make a small dent in that tonight,” Trustee Michael Allman said with his vote. “I know what we’re considering is not nearly enough but I’m going to be advocating in future meetings that we increase more than this.”

“This is the bare minimum of what we need to do,” agreed Clerk Katrina Young. “We absolutely need to make sure that we are paying our employees at least the minimum wage and then to be continued as we continue to talk to them about other matters.”

Classified staff last received a salary increase in 2020, a 3.5% pay increase that followed a long negotiation process. In September 2022, San Dieguito’s certificated staff received a 4% raise and a $3,000 off-schedule payment.

At the Jan. 31 meeting, the board voted to pass along the same one-time $3,000 stipend to the management and executive cabinet team, which had failed to pass in November as Allman did not support paying employees who are no longer with the district, even though they did work for the district in 2021-22 school year. The bonus was revised to exclude the nine employees who no longer work for San Dieguito.

According to Cheesman, the district is offering classified staff the same 4% raise that was given to certificated staff. She noted that the 4% raise for certificated employees cost the district $3.2 million while the same percentage to classified staff would cost a little over $1 million.

“It’s hard to compare but when I see those numbers all I can think is that in the eyes of the district, classified employees are worth half of what a certificated employee is worth,” Cheesman said.