South Bay teachers offered pay incentive to return to classroom

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CHULA VISTA, Calif. – Teachers in the Sweetwater Union High School District are being offered a pay incentive to return to campuses.

The district approved a one-time 7% increase in the April pay of teachers who return to campus on April 12 as well as a 2% bonus for the months of May and June for teachers who return on May 3. Any bonuses would be funded through state reopening incentive money which the district must qualify for, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

But of the district’s more than 1,700 teachers, only about 500 say they will return, said Cesar Fernandez, vice president of the Sweetwater Education Association.

Fernandez said many still are weighing whether it is safe to come back.

“I don’t think there is an amount of money that’s going to convince those folks that it’s safe to return yet,” he said. “Just because of what we see in our neighborhoods and Sweetwater has some of the most impacted zip codes in the county as far as COVID, so I just don’t think that money really is the convincing issue for these teachers.”

Fernandez supports teachers receiving a raise, but doesn’t think it will be enough to get everybody on board. As an educator of more than two decades, he estimates a 7% increase for him would work out to be about $400.

“We frame that as, ‘Hey, it’s a car payment and it’s not a really nice car at that,’” he said. “It’s a nice thing to do, but it’s not a bunch of money like people might be thinking.”

Much of the district’s instruction during this past year has taken place online. But amid the continued COVID-19 vaccine rollout along with San Diego County on the cusp of joining the even less-restrictive orange tier in the weeks to come, local districts are expanding in-person learning days for students up to five days a week.

In a letter to families last week, Interim Superintendent Moises Aguirre wrote that the district is planning and preparing “to ensure students return to a healthy, safe, and comfortable learning environment.”

“The District has implemented health and safety protocols and protective measures for the small group instruction that has been occurring on campus over the past few months,” Aguirre said, “and has been expanding those in preparation for in-person hybrid reopening.”

But concerns still persist for some teachers, Fernandez said, including that most students would not be vaccinated and that they might also live with a vulnerable adult who isn’t vaccinated.

Teachers also are concerned about air quality in some of the classrooms, he said.

Fernandez, who has received the COVID-19 vaccine, says he is looking forward to returning a more normal schedule with students learning in-person.

“We know that’s the best way students learn,” he said. “We just haven’t felt that it was safe up until recently and again with us in the red tier, heading towards the orange, we can’t wait to see your students again.”

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