Galt’s high school trustees on Nov. 4 listened to more than an hour of public comment on teacher contract negotiations and on school mask and vaccine mandates. The Galt Joint Union High School District board also made plans to follow up on a letter asking the state for local control over mask rules.

When the board opened the general public comment period, it heard from a succession of 16 teachers on the proposed contract for the district’s certificated staff. While four units of the Galt Federation of Certificated and Classified Employees (GFCCE) have accepted tentative agreements, the union’s Certificated Unit voted to reject the terms.

Thirty-two members voted against the agreement, and 23 voted in favor, out of a total 96 certificated members, GFCCE President Clark Carter told the Herald. Carter said he has not seen staff vote down a tentative agreement in his 11 years with the district.

Teachers who spoke asked for better working conditions and a higher cost-of-living adjustment to their salaries.

Galt High School English teacher Amanda Baer said that, though the rejection may surprise some, it “speaks to the general discomfort of your teaching staff this year.”

Teachers “are burnt out with building new curriculum, stressed about keeping our students on pace, concerned for their well-being and sad about the way that teachers have so often been blamed for these troubles,” Baer said.

Martin Hall, a science teacher at Liberty Ranch High School, said that the 3% cost-of-living adjustment offered in the proposed agreement is not enough after three years with no salary adjustment.

During the update on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the district, Superintendent Lisa Pettis updated the trustees on a September letter to the California Department of Public Health asking for greater local control over mask wearing in schools.

The public health department has not responded to the letter, Pettis said, and she asked the board’s approval to send a follow-up requesting an answer.

The trustees agreed to the proposal and, at the request of Trustee Terry Parker, instructed Pettis to draft a letter and a resolution in response to the mandate that K-12 students be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The trustees said they wanted to show that they are taking action and encouraged parents to avoid protest actions that can hurt district funding, such as an Oct. 18 demonstration that urged parents to keep their children out of school.

The topic of “No Mask Monday” protests also came up, in which parents instruct their children to refuse to wear a mask when asked to by school staff. Galt High student representative Joseph Torres said he has seen “no action taken” at his school when a student declines to mask up.

Pettis said she was “concerned” by the impact of the walkout. On Oct. 18, 809 of the district’s 2,193 students were absent, 644 of the absences unexcused. Noting uncertainty about how many absent students participated in the protest, Pettis said this is a 25% increase in absenteeism compared to previous weeks.

The superintendent said the absent students lost nearly 220,000 minutes of instruction time, and the district lost more than $41,000 in attendance-based funding from the state.

“The unfortunate part is that that $41,000 stays at the state level … so it’s really concerning because this hits the pocketbooks of districts,” Pettis said.

Several of the public commenters, who included parents and teachers, acknowledged the trustees’ efforts but asked for more action.

“I request the board exhaust all avenues to fight the K-12 mandates and mandates against school staff,” Kristi Ward said.

Thanking the board for the resolution, Annette Kunze said parents “have felt very forsaken for the past couple years.” She apologized that the walkouts cost the district funding but said they are “the only thing that is making a difference.”