“Opening day” at Cuesta College commemorates the start of the spring semester and features speeches from the school’s top officials.
But this year, a faculty protest stole the show.
Roughly 100 Cuesta faculty and staff participated in an “informational picket” on campus on Jan. 15 to bring awareness to what they feel are poor and uncompetitive wages.
“We decided to not attend opening day, and make a statement that we really are unhappy with this situation,” said Debra Stakes, the president of the Cuesta College Federation of Teachers (CCFT).
Stakes told New Times that the picket was attended by faculty members from all the school’s divisions and even some Cal Poly faculty members, who have similar salary grievances.
Both the CCFT and the Cuesta College Classified Employees’ Union (CCCEU) declared an impasse with the SLO Community College District in 2015 after negotiations beginning last spring failed.
According to the CCFT, Cuesta College pays significantly lower salaries than comparable community colleges. CCFT numbers indicate that an across-the-board 11 percent salary increase would bring teacher compensation on par with the average salary levels of 13 comparable districts.
“We have been tracking our salary compared to our comparative institutions for about two years,” Stakes said. “We’re at the very bottom.”
Faculty have received 2 percent salary increases over the past seven years, despite the rising cost of living in SLO and the fact that the SLO Community College District has received a substantial boost in state funding.
Stakes notes that the school is losing quality instructors, especially younger teachers, because the wages offered at Cuesta fail to measure up to those at other colleges.
“What’s keeping our faculty here is their fundamental devotion to students,” she said. “But if we don’t have new faculty coming in, we’re going to lose vibrancy.”
In a Jan. 13 statement sent to New Times, the district said it last offered faculty a 4.46 percent ongoing salary increase, which it believes is “fair and fiscally responsible, given our enrollment challenges and lack of growth.”
It also offered a 2.26 percent one-time bonus to faculty.
“It is true that the district received the best budget from the state than in the several years past,” the district’s statement reads. “However, the majority of these dollars were one-time only.”
The parties will meet for a round of impasse discussions on Feb. 9.