Hundreds of Evergreen Public Schools union members and their supporters turned the district office’s parking lot into a sea of red Tuesday evening as they demonstrated in favor of increasing teachers’ wages.
Those in the crowd at the school board meeting protested what they called an “insulting” offer by the school district, and described feeling “disrespected” by and “disgusted” with district leadership.
But officials say they don’t have the money to afford the raises the teachers want. District projections show that, if they pay the salaries the Evergreen Education Association is asking for, the district will be nearly $53 million in the hole in three years.
It’s the same story at most Clark County school districts and around the state, where the McCleary school funding decision has resulted in heated bargaining. Some teacher unions, including Evergreen’s, are threatening to strike if an agreement isn’t met.
“We’re willing to strike, but we absolutely don’t want to,” said Rob Marsh, a humanities teacher at Covington Middle School. “It would break everyone’s heart to miss that first day of school, but if we have to, we will.”
This year, the Washington Legislature was deemed, at last, in compliance with the 2012 McCleary Supreme Court decision after pumping $1 billion into schools earmarked for teacher salaries. That’s on top of the prior year’s approved levy swap, which is slated to send $7.3 billion toward basic education through 2021.
In light of the additional money, the Washington Education Association, the state teachers union, is pushing local unions to bargain for 15 percent raises for teachers. And some districts are settling at that rate or even higher, including the Woodland School District.
In Evergreen Public Schools, where teachers will be entering the final year of a three-year contract, the district has offered its teachers a 1.9 percent raise to base pay, plus the already negotiated 5 percent increase to TRI pay, or time, responsibility and incentive pay. That would result in an average teacher salary of $76,207.
Superintendent John Steach did say the bargaining team plans to offer a “revised proposal,” though he did not specify numbers at Tuesday’s meeting.
“It shows movement and we hope it shows a clear message that the district is not interested in a strike vote,” he said.
The teachers’ union, meanwhile, has proposed a pay range of $56,631 for new teachers to $96,893 for the most experienced teachers. The average salary, according to the school district, would be $83,444.
Steach said the McCleary budget deal did not help Evergreen in the way it helped other districts. District projections show that, as local levy rates drop, the district can expect an additional $6.5 million in permanent annual revenue. For comparison, the district looks to Lake Washington Public Schools, a comparably sized district, expecting to see an additional $65 million.
“They have an additional $60 million in resources to put toward salaries that we don’t have,” Steach said.
But for the union members in the audience, including Silver Star Elementary School teacher Kasia Brown, that explanation was not enough.
“This will be my 12th year in this district, and I still make less than the average person in this country with a master’s degree,” she said. “I was shocked that we had to fight for an increase. Now I am disgusted. I am hurt. I am frustrated.”