MUKILTEO — Teachers are unhappy with the Mukilteo School Board’s unwillingness to renegotiate the salary portion of their contract and intend to make their concerns increasingly visible to the public.
On Wednesday and Thursday, a couple of dozen Mariner High School instructors spent their lunch break conducting an informational picket on the sidewalk off campus. Teachers plan similar demonstrations every day at lunch the rest of the school year.
Meanwhile, a much larger assembly of classroom teachers, staff and supporters is expected at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. school board meeting to argue their case directly to the elected officials. Roughly 150 of them showed up for the same reason at the last meeting May 14.
The flashpoint is the Mukilteo Education Association’s demand to bargain on how the district spends an infusion of state dollars as a result of the McCleary school funding lawsuit.
In the court case, parents and teachers successfully sued to force the state to amply fund basic education, including wages of school employees. Since the 2012 decision, lawmakers have boosted school funding by roughly $9 billion, including $1 billion this year and $1 billion last year for educator salaries.
The teachers union wants to renegotiate its contract, which runs through August 2019, to ensure the additional money is used for salaries.
District leaders, and school board members, say they’re ready to talk about the state dollars and salaries. But they contend any increases can be agreed upon through the less formal meet-and-confer process.
“We’ve said that we want to talk to the union. We’re willing to give them more money,” district spokesman Andy Muntz said. “We can do it without opening the contract.”
Last week, board President John Gahagan sent a letter to MEA members about the rationale for their position. It included a historic perspective of the legal fight and political scrapes on public school funding in this state. It outlined the various legislative changes and noted the importance of the board to be fiscally responsible given the uncertainties of funding in future years.
That letter, now posted on the district website, further riled teachers.
Dana Wiebe, the union president, said in an email that members told her they found it “extremely condescending and patriarchal.”
Wiebe said the union isn’t trying to abrogate the current agreement but bring it into conformance with revisions in law approved this year. Their bargaining team, she said, is well-versed in the history of the education funding battle.
“We are ready to negotiate, and do not need (to be) ‘explained to’ in a 1,000+ word written soliloquy,” she said.
Nancy O’Connor, a teacher at Picnic Point Elementary, said she is in her 17th year with the district and has “always been proud to be a part of the Mukilteo School District team. Sadly, that has changed.”
She described herself as “very disappointed” with the position taken by board members and Superintendent Marci Larsen.
“Shame on you,” she said of them. “Your actions and words say, ‘We don’t value our teachers.’ ”
Benayshe Titus is in her fifth year teaching at Mariner High School and her 12th in the district. She expressed disappointment but also hope the Board of Education will change its course.
“I have worked hard alongside other educators for years now to tell the Washington Legislature that our schools need to be fully funded,” she said. “And now that we have won, we are being told by our school district that they are not willing to use any of the millions of dollars they are getting from the state to increase teacher salaries.
“Legislators have said that the money districts are receiving is for compensation,” she said. “I hope the school board will join us in supporting our right to bargain with the Mukilteo School District.”
Neither Wiebe nor Muntz described the situation as a stalemate.
“We do want to give our teachers more compensation,” Muntz said. “Our expectation is we’ll sit down and we’ll talk it out and get this hammered out.”