Washougal teachers: salary offer ‘inadequate’

They declare ‘no confidence’ in outgoing superintendent

Washougal School District teachers gather outside the Washougal district office before a school board of directors meeting June 12. Scott Rainey, Jemtegaard Middle School teacher, holds a sign that states: "State provided teacher pay 'raise': 26 % WSD proposed teacher pay 'raise': 1 % (and newer teachers get a pay cut)."

The Washougal Association of Educators (WAE) voted to declare a status of “no confidence” in Washougal School District Superintendent Michael Stromme, with 149 out of 150 members voting “yes” and one member abstaining, on Monday, June 18.

The vote came one week after the Washougal School District (WSD) presented its first proposed salary schedule during negotiations with the union on June 11.

Frank Zahn, WAE president, described the proposal as being inadequate, offering only a 1-percent raise for some teachers, while newer teachers would take a pay cut.

The state legislature passed a supplemental budget in March that includes $2.1 billion for teacher compensation, according to Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s website.

The Washougal School District is receiving $2,534,070 from the state in additional funds for teacher salaries for the 2018-19 school year, a 26-percent increase from last year, Zahn said.

The WAE is asking for a 21-percent increase for teacher salaries, the teachers’ union president added.

The negotiations are still in the beginning stages, with the district and the union having only met twice to discuss a contract for the 2018-19 school year. The current collective bargaining agreement expires Aug. 31.

At the first meeting, the union presented the district with their salary demands.

“They responded in the second meeting (June 11) with what they felt was their offer and it was inadequate,” Zahn said.

Jemtegaard Middle School teacher Scott Rainey, who has worked in Washougal for 20 years, said he is at the top of the pay scale for both education and experience, and based on the salary schedule proposed by the district, he would receive a $400 raise in comparison to the current schedule.

On the opposite end of the scale is Darin Kohn, a three-year teacher in Washougal, who said that under the proposed scale, teachers with less than five years’ worth of experience would receive less pay, and he specifically would have a $500 pay cut.

With his current salary, Kohn, a nine-year U.S. Navy veteran, said he need to work as a pizza delivery man alongside his full-time teaching job to support his two young children.

Zahn said the district’s reasoning behind the schedule is that next year is a transition year from the current levy system to the state funded system and that they have to bridge the amount with state funds.

“They also cited (revised codes of Washington), saying that they can only legally give us up to a 3.1-percent raise,” Zahn said. “There is not a 3.1 (percent) cap. We believe that they’re going off of the advice that they’re getting through their school district association and they’ve had a legal opinion from somebody, somewhere, saying that that’s all they can give. And that’s not true. That’s not what the Legislature’s intent was.”

Washington school districts and teachers’ unions also are negotiating contracts in which teacher salary schedules, for the first time in a long time, are not not set by the state — with some districts already receiving higher raises.

The Bridgeport Educators Association in central Washington has secured a 21.1-percent pay increase compared to last year, according to the Washington Educators Association (WEA).

Closer to home in Southwest Washington, Mossyrock Educators Association members have obtained a 15.3-percent increase in pay with some teachers earning more, the WEA said.

The Washougal union team has asked the district to check their numbers and plans to bring forward more evidence for the pay scale that they’ve asked for and how it’s supported, Zahn said.

The proposed salary schedules are not released by the union because they are still negotiable, Zahn explained.

The apportioned amount for teacher salaries is to make up for significant losses in the last 25 years, when the state did not fully fund public education, Zahn said.

“It barely satisfies. Really, it’s a good start. That’s what a lot of us have called it,” Zahn said, of the Legislature’s remedy for the years of underfunding schools. “It’s a good start, but it’s still not professional wages for professional work — and teachers do professional work, above and beyond.”

Washougal resident Roger Daniels, 68, is a long-time volunteer for the Washougal School District, and was a co-chair on the bond campaign in 1999 that raised $51 million for capital projects, a co-founder of the Washougal Schools Foundation and has served on the vocational advisory committee and the career and technical education advisory.

“As a long-time supporter of the Washougal School District, we’ve worked hard to bring our schools up to the caliber that will make us competitive and a desirable place for teachers to come and work,” Daniels said. “When I read about (the negotiations), I was disappointed. I spent 25 years and a lot of hours trying to help out the system, and I thought the administration would do more.”

After the first proposal from the district, Zahn said he is concerned.

“We are trying to work with the district to build a district that could be a shining example through the whole area and the resistance we get to doing that is palpable and we want to work with the district,” he said. “We want this place to be the best place to be, but we’re stymied by the actions of the school board and of the administration.”