Clash over Mukilteo teacher pay, schools leadership

Teachers union gives superintendent a no-confidence vote; school board gives her a raise

Mukilteo School District Superintendent Marci Larsen

Mukilteo School District Superintendent Marci Larsen

MUKILTEO — Schools Superintendent Marci Larsen has received a raise and a contract extension from the school board even as hundreds of teachers have expressed a lack of confidence in her leadership.

Union members criticized the board’s actions on July 9, contending such decisions should have been delayed until a resolution is reached to end contentious salary talks between the district and teachers. The dispute incited a vote of no confidence in Larsen by teachers in late June.

Board President John Gahagan said it was a routine action that needed to be done by the end of July.

“(The Board) think(s) that Marci has made the Mukilteo School District into one of the best school districts in the state,” he said. “And we want that to continue.”

The school board vote extended Larsen’s contract by a year and it is now set to expire in 2021.

For the coming school year, Larsen’s base salary will be $257,104, according to Andy Muntz, a spokesman for the district. Her total compensation will top $300,000 when accounting for insurance benefits and contributions the district makes to her retirement fund, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

She will receive a 3 percent salary increase, which is the same as the other certificated administrative staff will get, Muntz said.

Last year, when the board similarly extended her contract, they also included two bonuses linked to her years of service. For the 2017-2018 school year, after 14 years as superintendent, Larsen was given $14,000. In the 2019-2020 school year, Larsen is set to receive $16,000.

The school board added these longevity attainment payments to the contract to serve as an incentive for Larsen to stay with the Mukilteo district, Muntz said.

Larsen has led the district since 2003 and is one of the longest-serving school superintendents in Snohomish County.

Muntz said Larsen was not available for an interview about the contract or the no-confidence vote from the union.

Members of the teachers union said the board should have waited on the contract extension until the district completed negotiations on salary issues.

Dana Wiebe, president of the Mukilteo Education Association, said many teachers feel it’s time for change in leadership.

In late June, the union took a vote of no-confidence. Of the 673 responses, 595 union members declared their dissatisfaction with the direction Larsen is taking the district. Just 24 teachers expressed confidence in the superintendent.

Wiebe said the union hopes the no-confidence vote will encourage district leaders, including Larsen, to increase their presence at the schools to gain a deeper understanding of a teacher’s job.

“This would help the district ascertain why educators feel a growing chasm between those in schools and those in district leadership,” she wrote.

Teachers and district leaders are at odds on how to handle an infusion of state funding coming as a result of the landmark school funding lawsuit known as McCleary.

The union wants to renegotiate its contract, which expires in August 2019, to secure the incoming state dollars for salaries.

The district said the contracts don’t need to be reopened but is willing to discuss teacher compensation.

“We value our teachers and have demonstrated that over the years by making them among the highest paid teachers in the state of Washington,” Muntz wrote in an email.

Muntz said the district has agreed to discuss ways to further increase salaries this year even though the current contract won’t expire for another year.

“We do have increased funding and with the increased funding we do want to increase teacher salaries,” Gahagan said.

In Mukilteo, a new teacher with a bachelor of arts degree will make $51,856 while an instructor with at least 25 years of experience and a doctorate will earn at least $99,949. Roughly a third of a veteran teacher salary now comes from local dollars.

The groups are scheduled to return to negotiations Aug. 7. Union members have authorized their bargaining team to call a strike if there is no tentative agreement to consider by Aug. 15.

Gahagan was confident an agreement will be reached and school will start as scheduled Sept. 5.

Since April, after issuing a formal demand to bargain over compensation, which was rejected by district leaders, teachers have packed school board meetings.

“Our district leadership’s choice to use repeated roadblocks and excuses around the McCleary funding instead of actively engaging with us to celebrate this joint victory has appeared to damage the confidence members have in our Mukilteo School District leaders,” wrote Wiebe in an email.

Board members remain committed to Larsen.

“Our extension of Dr. Larsen’s contract clearly states our position and support of her leadership,” wrote Michael L. Simmons, board vice president, in an email. “When you look across the state and the nation, she is clearly one of the top educators and is respected as such.”

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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