Washougal, WA — Earlier this week, the Washougal Association of Educators (WAE) voted with 96 percent approval to reject a 15.56 percent compensation increase offered by the Washougal School District (WSD) administration. Face-to-face negotiations between both parties continue today to address those salary issues, as well as other union concerns, in an effort to avoid a strike.
“The Washougal School District is offering teachers a 15.56% total compensation increase, which would result in a professional salary package from $50,000 to $94,000, providing a fair, equitable, and regionally competitive compensation to our certificated staff,” Washougal Schools said in an official statement. “This move demonstrates the value the district has for teachers, who are doing excellent work every day in classrooms, helping our students reach their potential and thrive. This offer uses all of the state provided increase for teacher salaries, plus levy dollars, plus funds from the district’s ending fund balance.”
In addition, teachers at the top end of the scale would earn more than $1,000 more per month than they currently do.
The WAE rejected the 15.56 percent increase, citing it’s not the full amount that the state is allocating, as well as other concerns, such as classroom size, and high Washougal teacher turnover.
“We want to be at school on the first day, said WAE president, Eric Engebretson. “Despite having numbers being posted by the district that change frequently, our community members have expressed support and understand what we are negotiating for. Our numbers have remained true and consistent since day one of negotiations. Our position is that the state has recognized that salaries for teachers has lagged over the years and that teachers (in SW Washington and beyond) just want what has been allotted to them.”
Washougal is one of 295 school districts in the state that have been in bargaining sessions with local and state teacher’s unions over how money from the 2017 McCleary legislation, passed by the Washington State Legislature to “amply fund education” throughout the state, will be allocated. Overall, just over $2 billion has been earmarked to increase teacher salaries, which has been funded by a 30% property tax hike.
Per our previous articles and videos, the legislation increases overall teacher pay to 26 percent — but it comes with strings attached. McCleary changes the old salary structure model by stripping away Time, Responsibility and Incentive (TRI) pay model and by capping local levying capacity by 50 percent.
“We used an extra compensation ability, which we called TRI,” said Mary Templeton, the brand-new Washington School District Superintendent. “We created a way to find extra dollars, so this is for all the things you do outside teaching, which includes planning, preparation, grading papers on weekends, calling parents at night — all the things teachers do.”
With McCleary, she said “the state told us ‘let’s give you 26% more of direct state money.’ But now the state said they won’t fund TRI with the new legislation. They said this would put major restrictions on how TRI is paid. After careful analysis of how this affects Washougal, we realized very quickly that we can’t pay our teachers TRI.”
Mary Templeton is Washougal’s brand-new Superintendent.
And to further complicate matters, local levy dollars for Washougal will drop over the next two school years, resulting in a loss of $2.9 million in local levy funding.
“The new model is a net of about 12 percent more state and local funding when you take away TRI and the levy,” said Templeton. “Every district is different so it’s unfair to make general comparisons. McCleary also affected staff mix, which allocated more state funds, which helped districts with more experienced teachers. The greater the number of experienced teachers, the more money a district would receive.”
After the WSD budget team looked at the numbers, they found a way to create the 15.56 percent increase, she said.
“The offer comes from finding more money to help us be more competitive. We are going to use our reserve. We have a $44 million operating budget. We’re going from a 16 percent reserve to a 9 percent reserve over four years. We have to be very conscientious and aware of how we’re prioritizing. We have to look at all of our expenditures to make sure we stay right at 9 percent, which is about $2.4 million at the end of 2019. That extra increase amounts to $1,197 more per teacher this year. The union wants 26 percent, but legally WSD can’t do it.”
To clarify, reserve money is not connected to levy dollars — it’s the WSD savings. The reserve is projected to decrease over four years, and is expected to level out at that time.
“We will pay for some things with levy, even with our reduced capacity,” said Templeton. “We can use levy money for enrichment. We are continuing on with a very positive approach to the whole thing. I respect their advocacy. The union wants the teachers to get every dollar the state is giving them.”
Washougal children at a recent rally.
How Sustainable is McCleary?
Templeton says it’s essential they maintain their fiscal solvency, but that McCleary makes it challenging to see the future past two years, even though the new law requires districts to forecast four years ahead.
“I’ve been in education for over 25 years, I’ve been in 5-6 school districts over that time,” said Templeton. “There will always be a place or time where the district is trying to hold back money, but for the most part these are fair people. All of us were teachers at one point. We are giving you everything we have. McCleary creates a new model, and it’s a big change.”
Districts used to get paid by number of teachers, now they are paid by how many students are in a district’s boundaries. For WSD, the state gave them a $69,128 as flat rate for teachers — per teacher. WSD is offering is $70,325. The difference is $1,197 more than what they’re getting from the state, per teacher. Those funds are coming from the reserve.
The WAE believes the district will have an additional $6 million by the 2020-21 school year.
A Looming Strike?
She refers to Washington state history, saying that strikes in the state are very rare.
“I’m optimistic we will find an agreement,” Templeton said.
Negotiations between WAE and WSD are ongoing, and that the duration of 15.56 percent increase is still being negotiated. It will likely take at least two years for the system to understand this new model.
WSD leadership has requested mediation from the Washington Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) and their team will meet with WSD on Friday, August 24 as they work to finalize their negotiations with the union. School starts on August 28. The district thinks they will reach an agreement by August 27.
“We decided to look at all the money the state gave us and we decided to offer all of it, plus some at the beginning,” Templeton said. “We know that you need a salary increase, and we’re going to give it all we have, and then some. We want to retain you, so we pushed everything out right away. We took a new approach because we wanted to signal value to our teachers in transparency. This is what we have, this is our offer.”
She quoted a recent Seattle Times article that said the districts are saying I’m doing a four-year projection, and they realize they can’t pay their bills.
“What we’re offering is what we can afford,” she said. “To give anything more than that, there will be layoffs. That is the reality of every district.”
Given the new law, WSD has shifted their dollars more to personnel. Seventy-nine percent of their budget goes to personnel. It used to be 73 percent. (79 was the official number presented at board meeting 8-14-2018)
“The state gave the district 26 percent for salary, but they didn’t give us more for TRI,” she said. “We added to what the state is giving. 15.56 percent total compensation is what teachers will find in their paycheck — this doesn’t include benefits. We took every dollar the state gave us for teacher salaries and we added our own money to do it, which is $1,197 per teacher per year, from the reserves.”
This current offer provides WSD teachers a $50,000 starting salary — with a Bachelor’s degree.
“We head back into negotiations today (Friday, August 24) at 9 am and conclude at 5 pm,” said Hillary Marshall, of the WAE. “Our union has issued a strike if we don’t come to a resolution by 5 pm today which will start on Tuesday, August 28. The Washougal School District has acquired a mediator but our union didn’t feel like we needed to spend the extra funds for a mediator.”
The WAE Perspective
Since bargaining sessions are typically kept private, they can’t go into the details of those negotiations, but they have been public about general concerns and demands.
Engebretson said the WAE is concerned about the following:
• Class size
Class size. In an official statement, the WAE said “Overloaded classrooms have consistently been an issue for our teachers. We’ve already had parents speak at school board meetings because they are aware of how pressing the issue is, which is a detriment to our children. Our working conditions are student learning conditions, and no issue more effectively demonstrates that than reducing class size. Our union remains committed to reducing class size.”
Turnover. Hathaway teachers lost half of their teachers this summer.
“Turnover is so high in the District that for the 2018-19 school year, 1/3rd of staff will have one year or less of teaching experience in our District. “Because pay is so low in Washougal, experienced educators have chosen to teach elsewhere. How can we deliver a strong education program when we have higher turnover than fast food and retail industry? Washougal children deserve a stable staff that serve our students’ needs with consistency. Our goal is to attract and retain quality teachers.”
WAE teachers at a recently rally.
Salaries. “According to OSPI website Washougal will be receiving an increase of 26 percent just for teacher salaries alone. The District is offering an overall increase of 15 percent. This a significant improvement from their initial offer, which was in the single digits, and are maintaining the position that TRI (Time, Responsibility, and Incentive – additional hours worked outside of the teacher work day) no longer exists. While the District has made progress in their offer, it does not reflect the funds they are receiving from the state. The state legislature has made it clear that an investment in our teachers is an investment in our community.
Reserves. “The Washougal School District has a long track record of building their savings (labeled “Ending Fund Balance”) off the backs of our teachers. Even the District in negotiations have admitted they have not prioritized teachers!”
“We have every desire to start school on time. We want to be in our classrooms to greet our students on the first day of school. The only reason for why this wouldn’t happen has everything to do with the Washougal School District, once again, not prioritizing our teachers. You can’t put students first, if you put teachers last!”
“Teachers are really vulnerable right now, since No Child Left Behind,” Templeton said. “Teachers used to be heroes in our society, and we need to polish it up and begin to talk about how important teachers are. They are the shaper of dreams, and the molders of the future. Teachers want to be valued. It’s more than just money — it comes in lots of different ways. What does the community say about teachers? Those are the things that create value, and compensation is part of that. People need money and that’s a reality, but they also need to be thanked for the contribution to society. That’s all of us, that’s the community. We need to get teachers back to where they should be. The heroes of society.”
Union negotiations are still ongoing.