Teachers asking for a “long overdue salary correction” stated their case loudly and clearly during a South Whidbey school board meeting Wednesday, ending on the chant, “We don’t want to strike, but we will.”
An overflow crowd of 120-plus teachers and advocates packed the district’s board room demanding their share of the McCleary state Supreme Court order that allocates more funding to Washington public schools.
“The message is the same every year, ‘There’s no money,’” Rachel Kizer told board members and Superintendent Jo Moccia during public comments. “We won’t accept that. We know there’s money.”
The South Whidbey School District’s share is $3 million of $2 billion in new funding over two years that the Washington Legislature added to increase educator salaries.
The South Whidbey Education Association organized the show of force at Wednesday’s meeting, saying it was concerned negotiations would drag on; the first day of school is Sept. 4.
Teachers encouraged the board to follow the lead of other school systems, such as Coupeville, that have agreed to double-digit percent salary increases.
“This bargaining is not about the amount of money we have, we may have or will have,” Val Brown, a teacher and union negotiator, said. “It’s about priorities. (Talks are) moving in the right direction but it’s not enough.
“We are what’s best for kids,” she said to a round of clapping and loud cheers. “Invest in us.”
Public comment from teachers, retired educators and others followed a nearly hour-long presentation of the 2018-19 budget given by Assistant Superintendent Dan Poolman.
“I always want to remind people that student enrollment drives funding,” he said. “Every year since 2004, there’s been a decline in enrollment.”
About 1,300 students are expected this year, he said.
Figures released at the meeting revealed that the district and the union are at odds over starting salaries and caps for the most experienced teachers. Poolman later clarified the differences in an email to the South Whidbey Record.
“Our proposal is for a two-year contract with the average rising from $83,404 in 2018-19 to $92,324 in 2019-20,” he wrote. “This two-year increase would be an average of 16.5 percent. Individual increases range from 9.5 percent to 24.5 percent.”
Under the district proposal, a new teacher would earn $52,665 and the most experienced teacher $94,504 in 2018-19.
The union proposal ranges from $54,437 to $110,048 for 2018-19, Poolman explained.
Salary is based on 180 school days, four non-student work days plus a $1,000 technology stipend; health and other benefits are not calculated into the base salary and are budgeted separately.
More than half of South Whidbey’s 92 teachers have almost two decades of experience. In the next school year, 55 teachers will have 18 years or more years, putting them at the top of the pay scale, Poolman said. He pointed out that in the past five years, pay for the highest-paid teachers increased almost 20 percent.
A teacher with 18 years classroom time, a master’s degree and 90 additional credits made $73,955 in 2014-15 and $88,687 in 2017-18. “The difference of $14,732 is a 19.9 percent increase,” Poolman said.
Moccia opened the meeting explaining that the school board is the fiscal agent of the district, and that it had asked administrators to craft a budget with “a sustainable future for the district,” and to consider that when negotiating at the bargaining table.
The state’s top public education office also cautions school districts look ahead.
“Whatever contracts are agreed-upon, they must be sustainable,” Nate Olson, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction communications director, explained in an email. “In January, many districts will lose money because their local levies will decrease. That should be taken into account.”
Olson said there is no salary cap for certified and classified staff in the law yet some districts are abiding by it.
“Legislation passed in 2018 (House Bill 2242) can be interpreted as effectively voiding the 3.1 percent cap,” Olson said. “The teachers union is taking this position; many districts are not. OSPI’s position is that the bill is vague and that there is enough uncertainty that the 3.1 percent does not have to be the limit.”
Teachers at Wednesday’s meeting expressed dismay that salary information was being released to the public while negotiations were still on-going. Many said it felt like they were sitting at a bargaining session — usually done behind closed doors.
Poolman said union representatives had been told in advance information would be shared with the board and the public.
“The board had questions based on information being circulated and they wanted to be sure that they had information that was factually correct,” he said in an email. “The school board has a responsibility to be informed. We have a responsibility and an obligation to inform our community as to the status of bargaining.”
Teachers sat on the floor, spilled out the door and packed the back of the room. Many dressed in red T-shirts and held a variety of signs and posters.
Some spoke of respect, trust and commitment. Others warned that South Whidbey could lose teachers to other districts if pay is not competitive.
Washington Education Association representatives say the union is aiming statewide for a 15 percent increase for all certificated staff — most of whom are classroom teachers — and a 37 percent increase for the classified education support professionals it represents.
Prior to the meeting, South Whidbey teachers learned that the Coupeville School District had reached an agreement with the union for a 22.2 percent pay raise.
“Do you think that the commute (to Coupeville) will keep your best teachers from looking for raises in the $7,500-per-year-range up north?”Brook Willeford asked the board.
Other Whidbey Island school systems, he said, are “recognizing the worth of quality instruction for their students and compensating their staff appropriately. It’s time for South Whidbey to do the same.”
The Washington Education Association website shows recently certified contracts of smaller districts, such as Skykomish, 28.7 percent; Sedro-Wooley, 17.7 percent; and Elma, 27.2 percent.
Karyle Kramer, who attended South Whidbey schools as a student and then returned to teach and coach, said the district had an opportunity to rebuild trust that had been “decaying in the last years.”
While it could have offered teachers an olive branch in the form of a large raise and said it was was long overdue, Kramer said the district instead chose to make educators plead their worth again.
“To have to continually flight for fair, professional pay is tiring and it breaks down trust,” Kramer said. “It was the easiest olive branch you had in years and it’s not too late.”