Washougal teachers say pay falls short

Petition asks for salaries that match those in surrounding school districts

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Nearly 70 members of the Washougal Association of Educators attended a Washougal board of directors meeting Tuesday, May 8, to present a petition asking the district to make teacher salaries competitive with those in neighboring school districts. Above, Washougal High School band teacher Kelly Ritter addresses the board during the meeting.

National Teacher Appreciation Day fell on May 8 this year, the same day as a regularly scheduled Washougal School Board meeting, and dozens of Washougal teachers showed up with an idea for how district leaders could really show their appreciation — increasing teacher salaries to match compensation packages offered by surrounding school districts.

“Isn’t it ironic that today is Teacher Appreciation Day and Teacher Appreciation Week and we’re standing in a room of teachers filled with my colleagues and telling you we don’t feel appreciated in Washougal,” Columbia River Gorge Elementary kindergarten teacher Mandi Bradford told the board, adding that as a student teacher in Washougal six years ago, she fell in love with teaching and the district.

“The future of America is in my classroom,” she said. “If the district values the teacher, and I hope that you do, I think it’s time to make the teacher salaries in our district more competitive with those around us.”

Nearly 70 Washougal teachers turned out for the May 8 meeting. Their teachers’ union president, Frank Zahn, presented the board with a petition signed by members of the Washougal Association of Educators.

According to the petition, teachers are asking the Washougal School District “to make teacher salaries competitive with districts in the Vancouver metro area in order to attract and retain the highest quality teachers for the children of Washougal.”

After Zahn introduced the petition to the board, teachers and district staff members spoke to the board and expressed concerns about the school district’s compensation levels.

Scott Rainey, a history teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School, told the board that, in his 20 years with the school district, he has worked with many great teachers.

“Unfortunately, a lot of those great people aren’t in this room anymore,” Rainey told school board members. “They’ve been lured away to other districts because, honestly, the pay is much better … Washougal for so long has seemed sort of like the farm league to a lot of bigger districts.”

Rainey said he and Washougal High School social studies teacher Ryan Isaacson wrote the petition because they think it’s time for the district to offer competitive teacher-compensation packages.

“It’s time to elevate us up from that farm league status, and make sure we are attracting and retaining the best teachers here in Washougal, because our children, of course, deserve it,” Rainey said.

Isaacson, who also spoke at the meeting, said he’s been with the district for 22 years. Over the past couple of years, Isaacson said, he has grown more concerned about the pay disparities between Washougal teachers and those in surrounding school districts.

“Our district has a higher reserve fund compared to neighboring districts, and our pay is less,” Isaacson said. “And if we are receiving FTE (full-time enrolled) funds to pay our staff and we are not using those to remain competitive with neighboring districts, then as (new) teachers come in with student loans and bills and trying to find a way into a house … these are the pressures they will face everyday. My concern is that we keep and retain teachers with a competitive wage, a wage that says that the people and community of Washougal value their teachers just as much as Camas and Evergreen.”

On the petition, Washougal teachers state that the average salaries in Washougal lag behind those in the Camas School District by 9 percent, Evergreen School District by 13 percent and Vancouver School District by 7 percent.

The petition also states that the state of Washington requires a 3.5-percent operating reserve for all school districts for emergencies and oversight. Over the past four years, Washougal has kept an average reserve of 20.2 percent, according to the petition. The most recent information from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) indicates the reserve from Camas is 13.6 percent and 9.6 percent for Evergreen.

Washougal teachers’ current contract expires on Aug. 31. The Washougal School District and the Washougal Association of Educators will begin working on the next collective bargaining agreement this spring.