Teacher salary negotiations down to the wire

Strike threats loom without bargaining agreements

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Camas Education Association members pack into the Camas School Board meeting room for the Aug. 13 regular meeting. Union representatives spoke to the board about contract negotiations and how a fair and competitive salary would impact their lives.

Less than three weeks before the start of the 2018-19 school year, local teachers unions and school districts are down to the wire for settling bargaining agreements and avoiding the threat of a teacher strike.

At issue in both Camas and Washougal school districts, as well as many Washington state school districts, is how to set teacher salary schedules under new state guidelines meant to satisfy the Washington Supreme Court’s “McCleary” decision, which ruled the state had been shirking its duty to amply fund public education, including educator salaries.

To remedy McCleary, state legislators in 2018 approved $2 billion for educator salaries throughout the state, but also set limits on local funding and left decisions regarding teachers’ base salary schedules up to local districts and unions instead of the state.

Camas and Washougal school districts are among many in Southwest Washington still struggling to reach agreement regarding those base salary schedules before the start of the 2018-19 school year.

Slow progress in Camas, teachers set strike vote date

Before an Aug. 9 bargaining session between the Camas Educators Association (CEA) and the Camas School District, teachers union representatives held a tailgate outside the district office and said they hoped district leaders would offer them a bargaining agreement better than the 3.1-percent teacher salary increase discussed in previous bargaining sessions.

Following the Aug. 9 session, CEA president Shelley Houle said there is still a wide gap between the salary schedules proposed by the union and the district, but the district did make a new offer with additional funds.

“We are pleased that our district is taking steps toward a compensation package that educators in Camas deserve,” Houle stated in an email to The Post-Record. “Those steps are small and incremental, though. We would like the school board to give the district bargaining team more leeway in increasing those offers.”

In a letter sent to Camas School District (CSD) staff and families in June, district leaders stated they anticipate an increase of approximately $8.8 million in state funding for certificated, classified and administration staffing, combined with a $4.9 million decrease in local funding, for a net increase of $3.9 million for the 2018-19 school year.

CEA members and supporters attended the Aug. 13 Camas School Board meeting, during which Camas educators spoke to the board about what a salary increase would mean to them and their families.

Camas teacher Ken Mach told board members he supports his wife and five children by working a second job at Whole Foods, where he often shares his pride for the district with customers.

“I just want to say thank you for listening to all of us. Thank you for telling the negotiating team to find the creative way to make this work, because we all love being Camas teachers,” Mach said. “We are here because we’re proud of that, and we simply just want you to know how we felt up until this point and we want to see that continued.”

CSD Superintendent Jeff Snell said later that night the “McCleary fix” is a complex change.

“When we look at complex problems, there’s not yes or no, up or down, pass or fail kinds of solutions,” Snell said. “That’s just the reality of what we’re facing as a community and we’ll get through it if we stick together on it.”

In early August, Houle told The Post-Record the McCleary fix could have been written in a way that avoided legal interpretation disagreements between local unions and districts.

In June, the CEA held a general membership meeting and members passed a motion stating that, if they have no tentative agreement by Aug. 27, the union will call for a strike vote.

Snell said the teams will continue to meet at the bargaining table and praised the union’s leaders.

“The leadership of CEA is amazing. The leadership of our other groups are amazing,” Snell said. “They’re doing the best they can.”

In Washougal, teachers say district getting more than it’s giving

The Washougal Association of Educators (WAE) said that school district will receive a 26-percent increase in state money for teacher salaries, while only offering the union a 15.56-percent teacher salary increase.

“We feel that the money coming in is 26 percent, so where’s the other 11 percent?” WAE President Eric Engebretson asked. “They said that they have offered a competitive offer, but we don’t see a good reason as to why they’re not offering the full part.”

Engebretson said the union and district are at loggerheads over something known as time-resources incentive (TRI) pay, which is money teachers receive for working hours over their regular seven-hour workday.

The union contends TRI can be bargained for, while district leaders say its combined with base salary.

Washougal School District (WSD) Superintendent Mary Templeton said the district is using every dollar given by the state to support the proposed 15.56-percent salary increase.

“The base pay was increased by 26 percent, but other forms of compensation were not included in this increase,” Templeton explained. “For example, the district had used local levy money to fund the 13.5-percent TRI pay, which teachers received as part of their total compensation, and now the state does not allow us to do this.”

The district must now include that TRI pay in the base pay the state is funding at 26 percent, Templeton said.

“With this new McCleary model, the district is not allowed to collect levy dollars to pay for TRI, because the state says that they must pay for TRI so that (the state) can verify that (it is) fully funding basic education,” she explained. “The only additional levy funded pay we may offer is for documented and demonstrated enrichment activities that are outside of the professional responsibilities of a teacher. That is why we can offer extra professional development days to our teachers and use levy money to pay these days.”

The state intended to create one salary that included both base and TRI pay, Templeton said. The state also reduced local levy collection abilities and created new laws that restrict districts from using levy dollars to supplement teachers’ base pay. This means that, even if a school district still had levy money, it couldn’t use it to fund TRI.

Templeton said the funding change actually adds up to a net increase of 12 percent, since the state increased teacher base pay by 26 percent in Washougal, while decreasing TRI pay via local funds by 13.5 percent.

In order to fund their proposed 15.56-percent salary increase, the district will need to dip into reserve, Templeton said.

The WSD reserve fund will go from about 16 percent to 10 percent over the next four years, the superintendent said. The state average amount that districts have in reserves is 10 percent.

The reserve funds will provide $855 more to the salary of each full-time teacher, according to the district.

“The district has offered a fair, equitable and regionally competitive package,” Templeton said. “With the 15.56-percent increase, total compensation for teachers would provide more than $50,000 for beginning teachers, and $94,000 for teachers at the top of the salary schedule.”

The district and union bargaining teams will meet again Aug. 17.

In a statement released Aug. 10, the teachers union stated district leaders have made progress, but that their proposal still does not reflect funds the district is getting from the state.

The union leaders have said they want to avoid a strike, but could call for a strike vote Aug. 21, depending on the results of the Aug. 17 negotiations.

“We have every desire to start school on time,” the WAE stated Aug. 10. “We want to be in our classrooms to greet our students on the first day of school. The only reason for why this wouldn’t happen has everything to do with the Washougal School District, once again, not prioritizing our students and teachers.”