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Evergreen teachers demand big raises

Union threatens August strike vote in absence of ‘reasonable salary’ increases

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: June 14, 2018, 7:12pm

The Evergreen Education Association is demanding big raises for district teachers, and absent “reasonable salary” increases, is already threatening a strike vote this summer.

The union, which represents about 1,800 teachers and certificated staff at Evergreen Public Schools, had an emergency representative meeting Wednesday after union President Rob Lutz said recent bargaining meetings went sour. There, 120 representatives voted unanimously to recommend the general membership vote to strike at its Aug. 23 meeting if a “reasonable and appropriate salary scale” isn’t set.

“There is a sense of anger,” Lutz said.

District officials say they’ve offered teachers raises that reflect the contract the union agreed to in 2016, when lengthy and contentious negotiations threatened to delay the start of the school year.

“The bottom line is, we have a contract that we negotiated in good faith,” Superintendent John Steach said. Steach was the district’s deputy superintendent that year.

At the center of heated union negotiations in Evergreen Public Schools — the sixth-largest district in Washington — and across the state is the Legislature’s response to the McCleary decision, the Supreme Court case that determined Washington was failing to fully fund basic education.

After allocating $7.3 billion to the state school system last year, the Legislature this year added nearly another $1 billion for teacher salaries.

That has the Washington Education Association pushing its member unions to negotiate for major raises: 15 percent for teachers and 37 percent for some classified employees.

Lutz didn’t offer details on the specific salary increases the local union is asking for, saying the percentage increase depends on how much teachers are currently making.

District officials offered a 1.9 percent raise to teachers’ base salaries, reflecting an inflationary increase. The average teacher’s base salary is $57,383, and would increase to $58,473.

Lutz called the offer “insulting, frankly, to our members.”

Teachers make additional money in the form of time, responsibility and incentive pay, or “TRI pay.” Teachers in Evergreen Public Schools are also paid for training days. In total, according to the district, teachers make an average salary of $71,598, slated to increase next year to $76,207 — roughly a 6.4 percent increase — after TRI pay and training days are included.

Also at odds is the district’s salary schedule, a grid that assigns teachers a base salary based on their education and years of experience in the district. Washington eliminated the state salary schedule with the McCleary decision, leaving it up to local districts to set their own salary schedules. Lutz said the district is trying to calculate raises based on a salary schedule that no longer exists. Furthermore, he said, that salary schedule is illegal. Base pay for a brand new teacher was $35,700 under the old state standards, and new school funding laws set the minimum teacher salary at $40,000.

But district officials say that once TRI and training days are added to those base salaries, starting teacher wage in the district is $45,568, exceeding the state minimum.

Lutz disagrees with that assessment, saying districts can’t count TRI pay when setting their salary schedule.

The district also said that the state salary schedule was printed in the Evergreen Education Association contract in 2016, meaning it will remain the local salary schedule until the contract is reopened for full negotiation when it expires at the end of next school year.

“(It’s) our contractual salary schedule,” Steach said. “It extends into next year, the third year of the contract,” he said.

Lutz, again, disagreed.

“It doesn’t conform to state law,” he said of the schedule.

District officials and union negotiators have not set a day for additional negotiations.

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