On the first day of school Tuesday, Sarah Gillette took her South Whidbey Academy class outside for a learning skills game. Some 1,300 students reported to four district schools as scheduled when a teachers strike was averted with a last-minute deal. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

On the first day of school Tuesday, Sarah Gillette took her South Whidbey Academy class outside for a learning skills game. Some 1,300 students reported to four district schools as scheduled when a teachers strike was averted with a last-minute deal. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

Last-minute deal averts teachers’ strike

Teachers, district agree on two-year contract

Classes started Tuesday morning as scheduled after the teachers union and administrators reached a tentative two-year contract late Monday night, averting a strike.

“The South Whidbey School District and the South Whidbey Education Association have reached an agreement,” Superintendent Jo Moccia said in an email sent out about 10 p.m. “School begins tomorrow.”

The union represents 92 teachers; about 1,300 students attend the district’s schools.

In a joint press release, the two sides said a contract package will be put together “in anticipation of providing it to SWEA members for ratification and to the South Whidbey School District School Board.”

“While we are pleased we were able to reach an agreement, and our members are glad the district is finally making the right choice to support a fair contract, we did not want to go down to the wire,” said Becky Ward, South Whidbey union co-president.

“We appreciate the community support. Our families support South Whidbey teachers and we are grateful.”

The South Whidbey Education Association members approved the two-year agreement, which increases minimum total pay to $50,827 in year one and $53,639 in year two. Maximum total pay increases to $103,000 in year one and $108,000 in year two.

An average pay increase, which the union refers to as a “correction,” was not immediately available.

“The percentage of salary correction each staff member got depends on where they are on the salary schedule, years of service and amount of education,” Ward said.

Some 200 members and community supporters rallied in support of the negotiating team Monday at a gathering at South Whidbey Elementary School South Campus.

“Going on strike was the last thing we wanted to do,” co-president Robin Roberts said, “but we knew this was an important stand to take, in order to be able to attract and keep the high-quality teachers and other educators the students in our community deserve.”

Last week, union members authorized a strike beginning Sept. 4 if a satisfactory contract wasn’t reached by Monday. More than 100 teachers and supporters attended a board of education meeting Aug. 22 demanding that they receive long overdue salary increases authorized and funded by the Legislature.

Labor Day negotiations started with a rally on the campus of South Whidbey Elementary School. Teachers, dressed in the “Red for Ed” T-shirts, were joined by parents, students, bus drivers, classified support staff, coaches and community and business leaders holding various placards and shouting sentiments of support.

Many held pink signs saying, “I Support South Whidbey Teachers.”

The union gave the pink signs out at Friday night’s football game and provided a downloadable version on its website. The bright pink signs were visible in many Langley storefront windows.

Representatives from nearby school districts also attended the rally as well as members from other local unions.

Teachers said they turned the rally into a “teaching moment” when they spoke about the history of Labor Day.

Born of the fight for a 40-hour work week and decent, safe working conditions, the first “workingmen’s holiday” was actually part march, picnic and a one-day strike organized by the Central Labor Union in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882. It became an official state holiday the following year, and in 1894, Labor Day was made an official national holiday.

At the rally, teachers continued to demand “fair compensation that is competitive to attract and retain educators.”

“Neighboring districts Coupeville and Oak Harbor have already settled their negotiations,” union representatives said. “Teachers do not have to drive far to receive a significant boost in their salaries.”

After the rally, teachers gathered to make strike signs, saying they didn’t want to use them, and that “signs from a strike three years ago will also come in handy. The message is the same, “Fair Pay and Respect.”

The strike in 2015 lasted less than one day and was settled prior to the first day of school.

The class of Sarah Gillette plays a learning skills game outside on the south campus of South Whidbey Elementary during Tuesday morning’s first day of school requiring them to talk about favorite things and quickly move to colored spots. A teachers strike was averted with a last-minute deal reached before midnight on Labor Day. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

The class of Sarah Gillette plays a learning skills game outside on the south campus of South Whidbey Elementary during Tuesday morning’s first day of school requiring them to talk about favorite things and quickly move to colored spots. A teachers strike was averted with a last-minute deal reached before midnight on Labor Day. (Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group)

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