The Sumner-Bonney Lake School District may have averted one strike threatening to derail the school year, but another looms on the horizon.
Last weekend, the district and the bargaining team for the district’s nutritional staff and bus drivers — members of the International Union of Operating Engineers — came up with a tentative agreement, but it may not be enough to satisfy the roughly 85-member union, said bargaining representative Jim Payette, adding the members may decide to strike Monday, Sept. 17.
Like teachers, classified staff felt strongly they should get a piece of the $1 billion pie the state Legislature had approved to go toward teacher and staff salaries in districts across the state, fulfilling the state Supreme Court’s requirement for the state to fully fund basic education, known as the McCleary decision.
Originally, the school district offered bus drivers a raise of 3.5 percent and nutrition workers 5 percent, Payette said, which was a far cry from the 20 percent he said many classified staff members believed they deserved.
Staff members voted that contract down July 24, and joined teachers picketing outside the school administration building before a school board meeting on Aug. 15.
On Sept. 4, teachers agreed to a contract stipulating a 13 percent wage increase over two years, a raise similar to what teachers received in the neighboring Enumclaw, White River, Auburn and Dieringer school districts.
However, reaching an agreement with teachers appeared to mean putting classified staff on the back burner. Payette and other bargaining reps were supposed to meet with the district Aug. 31, but the meeting was canceled as the district met with teachers instead.
“They said they double booked, but it’s still a sting for our guys,” Payette said in a phone interview. “Definitely feels like we’re second-class, low-rate citizens on the totem pole. There’s a lot of contention over that.”
That feeling isn’t helped by the fact these staff members have been without a contract since the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
“We’ve been bargaining for a year and we’re tired of it. We need to wrap it up,” Payette added.
District Communications Director Elle Warmuth did not respond to questions as of press time concerning the Aug. 31 meeting cancellation or the year-long lack of a contract.
On Sept. 4, classified staff authorized a strike for Sept. 17 if no agreement can be made, with 59 “yes” votes approving the strike to nine “no” votes.
As they stood in their last contract, nutrition and transportation staff earned less than $20 an hour, which is something Payette hopes the McCleary money can rectify.
On the low end of the pay scale for nutrition workers, a new nutrition assistant could earn a minimum of $12.49 an hour, which can increase to $13.99 an hour if they stay for four years.
On the high end are central kitchen managers, who could earn $16.48 an hour in their first year at the school. That could increase to $17.19 an hour in their second year.
Nutrition staff could earn various stipends by spending several hours in various certification trainings.
Transportation staff earned more; new bus drivers could expect to make $19.32 an hour, which would increase to $19.90 an hour after working 10-plus years.
While the Washington Education Association represents teachers — also known as certificated staff — around the state, it only represents a handful of classified workers, which does not include Sumner-Bonney Lake’s staff.
However, the WEA tracked two classified unions that did receive wage increases due to additional McCleary funds.
Up north, the Bainbridge Island Educational Support Professional Association — which represents classified staff like bus drivers and nutrition workers, but also paraeducators, custodians, technology technicians, security and more — successfully bargained for an 18 percent increase in their new contract, bringing their union’s minimum salary to almost $19 an hour, and maximum to nearly $52.
And down south, the Touchet Education Support Professionals garnered a 13.5 percent increase, bringing their minimum to just over $14.50 per hour and their maximum to around $24 per hour.
The most recent tentative agreement, according to Payette, offers a 7.6 percent increase for both nutrition staff and bus drivers, retroactive to last year, plus other benefits.
“The District values IUOE’s members for their daily dedication to safely transporting students and providing them with nutritious meals – both key elements to academic success,” said Warmuth in an email interview.
But when asked if this contract will be accepted by classified staff, Payette said, “I don’t know.”
If the contract is not accepted by classified staff, a there may be a strike on Sept. 17, shutting down Sumner-Bonney Lake schools.
It’s unclear how the strike will pan out for classified staff members and the district.
According to Payette, the district claimed “poverty” during last weekend’s bargaining session, and will be “making procedural cuts this year and personnel cuts next year” in light of certificated and classified pay increases.
He added the district said “they were ready and set to replace all our guys” if it came to a strike.
The district did not respond to questions as of press time concerning its financial status going into the next two years or about potentially replacing classified staff.