South Whidbey teachers set Monday deadline

Collective bargaining set to resume Labor Day

South Whidbey teachers authorized a strike if a satisfactory new contract with “competitive salaries” is not reached by Monday night.

School starts the following day, Sept. 4.

South Whidbey Education Association representatives stated in a press release it remains hopeful that an agreement can be reached.

“Negotiations will continue on Monday and decisions will be made at that time if further action is needed,” the release states.

The union, which represents 92 teachers, said teachers will continue to prepare for the new school year, but added, “We don’t want to strike, but we will.”

After an all-day bargaining session on Wednesday, the union described the conversations at the table as a “productive, but by no means complete.”

It also referred to the negotiations as “complicated and fast-moving.”

Union negotiators are calling on districts to release all new state monies awarded under the landmark school funding lawsuit known as McCleary. But some districts are holding back out of concern of future revenue.

“The parties are still apart on the issue of competitive salaries but are hopeful that Monday’s negotiations will be successful in finding agreement,” the union statement said.

South Whidbey teachers did agree to attend Thursday’s professional development day as a gesture of goodwill.

“In a show of good faith and due to the amount of money being spent by the district on an outside speaker, the teachers agreed to attend the professional development day,” the union said in its prepared statement.

South Whidbey School District is offering a two-year contract with the average salary rising from $83,404 in 2018-19 to $92,324 in 2019-20, Assistant Superintendent Dan Poolman said in a previous interview.

The two-year increase would be an average of 16.5 percent while individual increases range from 9.5 percent to 24.5 percent, he said.

Under the district proposal, a new teacher would earn $52,665 and the most experienced teacher would earn $94,504 in 2018-19.

The union proposal ranges from $54,437 to $110,048 for 2018-19, Poolman said.

The union says more money is needed to retain and recruit high-quality educators.

“There is currently no formal proposal on the table that will keep South Whidbey teachers competitive with their neighboring district,” the union statement said.

“In the past month, South Whidbey has struggled to fill vacant positions and has seen quality candidates and current teachers join schools in both Coupeville and Mukilteo.

“Those districts concluded their negotiations with salary schedules that allow a teacher to maximize earnings earlier in their career.”

The Coupeville school board voted Monday night to increase teacher salaries by an average of 22 percent, with starting pay set at $53,444. The contract also reduced the years of experience needed to reach the top of the pay scale, which is $105,522, to 14 years.

Mukilteo teachers received a 13 percent raise, pushing starting salary to $58,481 and maximum to $111,348.

Everett continued to be the best district for teachers with experience when its union ratified a new two-year contract with an average salary increase of 15.5 percent. Its most experienced educators received a nearly 20 percent increase, bringing annual salary to $120,776.

Lawmakers reduced the amount of money that districts can collect from local property taxes starting in 2019. Many school districts have pointed to that future revenue loss as a reason to be cautious.

However, the union sees it differently.

“South Whidbey is slated to receive $4.7 million in new state revenues, even after accounting for local levy reductions,” the news release stated. “A large part of that increase this year was to improve and correct teacher salaries which have lost buying power over the years.”

As of Friday morning, teachers were on strike in Vancouver, Evergreen, Ridgefield, Hockinson, Battle Ground, Washougal and Longview, affecting about 80,000 schoolchildren.

Washington has never experienced seven local teachers unions simultaneously on strike, according to union officials.

Teachers in other districts have voted to strike if not offered similar double-digit pay increases.

Seattle teachers and staff also voted to authorize a strike if a deal is not reached by Sept. 5.

South Whidbey Schools Superintendent Jo Moccia and school board chairwoman Linda Racicot stated in a letter to the editor published Wednesday in The South Whidbey Record that the district is striving to prioritize teacher salaries and “to ensure a sustainable future for the district.”

“Our current two-year proposal provided in bargaining Aug. 21 prioritizes teacher salaries. Everything we do, from custodial improvements to curriculum comes from the same total budget,” the letter stated.

The letter cites the Supreme Court of Washington confirming that the “legislature enacted measures to fully implement the new salary allocation model by the 2018-2019 school year.”

“‘Allocation’ refers to how districts are funded, not how its teachers are provided a salary,” the letter from Moccia and Racicot states.

The letter also points out that in the past several years, the district has added programs for students, reduced class size, added teachers to address severe behavioral challenges of some students and it adopted a K-12 math curriculum that cost $200,000 in materials and training.

“We are proud of our program and our teachers and believe in what we are doing,” the letter states. “Reprioritizing the way we use our dollars will impact if and how our programs move forward.”

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