Some deals are done, but threat of teacher strikes remains

With contracts set to expire Friday, it’s crunch time for districts and unions to reach agreements.

Update: On Sunday, negotiators for the Everett School District and the Everett Education Association reached a tentative agreement on a new contract. Teachers will consider approving it Tuesday morning. If ratified, the Board of Directors would take action at its Sept. 11 meeting.

EVERETT — Public school teachers in several Snohomish County districts are preparing to ratify new contracts with large pay hikes this week. At the same time, hundreds of their peers are still pursuing agreements and making plans to strike if they cannot secure one before the scheduled start of classes after Labor Day.

Teacher unions in four districts — Snohomish, Marysville, Granite Falls and Lakewood — will be considering multi-year pacts containing increases of double-digit percentages. And in two other districts, Edmonds and Mukilteo, classroom instructors will be looking to amend their existing contracts to boost their pay in the coming school year up to 20 percent.

As of the end of last week, bargaining continued in five districts — Everett, Monroe, Stanwood, Lake Stevens and Arlington — where current contracts will expire at midnight Friday. The status of talks in Darrington, Index and Sultan was unclear.

A major stumbling block in those negotiations, and in dozens of districts around the state, is how to spend an infusion of new state dollars resulting from the landmark school funding lawsuit known as McCleary.

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 $2 billion in this budget for educator salaries.

Lawmakers also imposed new rules on how money is spent by requiring districts to project their revenues and expenses for four years rather than a single year. And they reduced the amount of money districts can raise from local property taxes. For some districts, it will result in a loss of millions of dollars starting in 2019.

Those changes are adding a degree of difficulty to bargaining as teachers push for raises and districts worry about not having money to pay for them in two to three years.

Last week, following another round of talks, members of the Stanwood-Camano Education Association voted to authorize a strike beginning Sept. 4 if an accord is not reached by Aug. 31.

Association president Nyda Goldstein issued a statement in which she said district leaders would not acknowledge the new money is for salaries, even as “nearby school districts have figured out ways to use the new state funds to provide competitive wages that will attract and retain quality teachers.”

In Everett, representatives of the school district and Everett Education Association scheduled a bargaining session for 9 a.m. Sunday.

“We are giving it a last shot to get a settlement,” said Jared Kink, president of the association. “We’re looking at major action after that.”

Union members gather Tuesday. Absent an agreement, they are expected to vote to authorize a strike. Their first action may be to skip a scheduled in-service day for instructors on Wednesday.

In recent days, parents and teachers emailed district administrators and school board members to urge them to find a resolution.

“I am very concerned as a taxpayer in the Everett School District to hear that negotiations are not going well and that there may be a strike by the teachers,” wrote Barbara Hauschel on Aug. 21. “People in Everett support their schools but expect the same from their school officials toward their employees. Let’s get this settled, pay the faculty and open school on time.”

Teresa Townsell, an elementary school teacher in the district for 31 years, said this is a time for teachers to be getting ready for a new school year and not worrying about the fallout from the lack of a settlement.

“All of us are here to work for a common goal,” she wrote to school board members. “I’m concerned, for several reasons, when negotiations are going so poorly that picketing and talk of a possible strike becomes necessary.”

Everett schools Superintendent Gary Cohn, in responding to Hauschel, wrote that compensation and working conditions for teachers, counselors and specialists “are a matter of great importance and the focus of a tremendous investment of public resources.”

“These items are important to our teachers, our principals and staff who support instruction, to the future of education for students in our schools, and to the long-term financial stability of the entire district,” he said. “All of us are motivated to conclude our bargaining process productively, cooperatively, and in mutually beneficial ways.”

In Monroe, Shaerie Bruton, president of the Monroe Education Association, said progress has been made on some items but not much on compensation. Bargaining sessions are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“We can get done on time if they give us the professional salaries we are looking for,” she said. “The ball is in the district’s court. Does the Monroe School District value their teachers or not?”

In Lake Stevens, hundreds of teachers and parents attended the Aug. 22 school board meeting. They raised several issues related to contract talks and urged directors not to approve a new budget until an agreement is reached.

David Iseminger, board president, declined Friday to discuss specifics.

“We remain committed to the bargaining process as we seek a fair and sustainable contract resolution,” he said.

Another complicating issue is the salary increases that teachers are securing in other districts.

For example, the Granite Falls Education Association announced a tentative agreement for a three-year contract providing an overall increase of 18.5 percent. It resets the salary range with a starting pay of $53,010 to top pay of $100,594, according to information posted by the union online.

Teachers in Lakewood are considering a deal to set starting pay for the coming school year at $54,320 with a top step of $107,385 for a veteran teacher with a master’s degree and 90 additional units of professional education. And in Shoreline the new scale will pay salaries between roughly $62,000 and $120,000.

Kink said those successes are raising expectations.

And Bruton said those in her union are well-aware too.

“They are going to do whatever it takes to get good salaries,” she said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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