After several anxious weeks, it appears all four Plateau school districts averted strikes that would have delayed the beginning of the school year.
Last March, the state legislature gave every school district a share of approximately $1 billion extra in funding — as per the state Supreme Court McCleary decision to fully fund public education — specifically for the use of bringing up pay and other compensation for teachers and other school staff.
That extra money threw many districts into chaos, as their carefully planned budgets were thrown out of whack and teachers were keen on seizing sizable percentage increases for their wages. Teachers and their supporters argued that districts who don’t give raises to their staff members will see an exodus of staff moving on to other districts that may pay thousands more per year; district administration countered that even with extra state funds, there was little financial room to give a double-digit percentage increases to wages, and that unsustainable financial decisions could put schools in very tight spots.
The pressure increased as dozens of districts around the state, tracked by the Washington Education Association, agreed to give their teachers average raises of 12 percent or more.
But as the school year inched closer, some districts on and around the Plateau had not come to an agreement over what sort of raises teachers could expect.
This brought some local schools to the brink of a strike; on Aug. 24, the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District voted to strike on Sept. 5, the first day of school, if an agreement was not reached by Labor Day.
The Dieringer School District also voted overwhelmingly on Aug. 27 to strike on the same day if a tentative agreement wasn’t ready by the same deadline.
At the same time, the Auburn School District agreed last week to give their teachers an 11 percent pay raise for the 2018-2019 school year, and a further 1.9 percent increase for the following year, according to the Auburn Reporter. This brings next year’s total compensation package to a minimum $54,000, and a maximum of $108,000, plus additional wages for holding a difficult-to-fill-position or contributing to more than the basic education requirements set by the state.
Additionally, the White River School District agreed to a 14 percent increase on Aug. 27, and a 2 percent increase following two years, bringing up their total compensation package to $50,000 at the minimum and $94,000 at the maximum for the 2018-2019 school year.
And even though the Enumclaw School District’s contract wasn’t expiring until the start of the 2019-2020 school year, teachers and administration agreed to a 12 percent increase in teacher pay for the 2018-2019 school year, and a further 3 percent increase in the following year. The tentative agreement was voted on during their Sept. 4 school board meeting, after print deadline.
Public Information Officer Rossi Ensign said the district won’t know exactly what the new minimum and maximum base pay schedule will be until after ratification, but with a contract in hand, “We’re ready for the first day of school. We’ll all be here.”
So with three neighboring districts agreeing to pay increases, the heat was increasing around the Dieringer and Sumner-Bonney Lake bargaining tables.
As the holiday weekend neared, the district and the union decided to continue bargaining through the weekend to come up with agreement.
The Dieringer School District announced a tentative agreement first on Aug. 30.
Both the district and the Dieringer Education Association declined to share details about the contract until after the vote on Tuesday, Sept. 4, after print deadline.
DEA President Julie Romano said the vote could be “close,” but, “We are hopeful to be back to school with students on September 5th.”
A Sumner-Bonney Lake School District tentative agreement was announced Sept. 1; Sumner Education Association President Gabrielle Wright said teachers will also vote on the proposed contract Tuesday, Sept. 4.
“We’re very pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with,” said District Communications Director Elle Warmuth. “Both bargaining teams worked tirelessly to come to this agreement, which honors the valuable work of our teachers and allows the district to continue attracting and retaining the best education for our students.”
Sumner Education Association President Gabrielle Wright agreed.
“Staff will be happy with the agreement,” she said, and added the new contract will keep the district competitive.