About 150 teachers and other staff packed the meeting of the Mukilteo School Board on May 14 to demand renegotiation of their contract. (Andrea Brown / Herald file)

About 150 teachers and other staff packed the meeting of the Mukilteo School Board on May 14 to demand renegotiation of their contract. (Andrea Brown / Herald file)

What Mukilteo teachers are saying makes sense but sounds bad

Public concern for teacher salaries may be steadfast, but patience for conflict is wearing thin.

OLYMPIA — Don’t disrespect Mukilteo teachers for pressing their bosses on the Board of Education to renegotiate their contract mid-stream.

There is nothing wrong with them wanting to restructure the collective bargaining agreement to potentially accommodate double-digit pay hikes across-the-board.

The Mukilteo School District, like most in Washington, will be getting more money from the state to use on teacher salaries. So even though pay is set to rise next school year under the current terms of the contract, it could be higher with the infusion of dollars.

Hence, it makes perfect sense for instructors to want to bargain. It sounds bad when they talk of taking actions at work to force the district into conversation.

It could be worse if something happens. Those optics could put teachers at risk of losing one of their most important gains in the protracted legal fight on school funding: public support.

The landmark McCleary case revealed how miserably state lawmakers failed to fund the education system. The state Supreme Court compelled the state — as in lawmakers and the governor — to greatly increase the amount of money it sends to school districts to pay for a student’s basic education. That means books, supplies, buses and teacher salaries.

It’s been an 11-year tussle. Communities have widely embraced the cause of teachers throughout.

But as the state puts the last billion-dollar pieces into place this year, many in the public learned compliance for the state comes at a cost to them. And their mood isn’t quite the same.

You could sense a change in February. A new four-year school levy passed in the Mukilteo district with 53.4 percent, down from 66.8 percent in 2014. Districts throughout Snohomish County and Western Washington recorded similar experiences of levies passing with smaller majorities than four years ago.

While the public’s concern for the economic plight of teachers might be steadfast, its patience for continued conflict — whether in a courtroom or on a street outside a school campus — is not what it was now that it has a little more financial skin in the game.

Teachers are going to need to be strategic. They know rules for salaries and benefits are going to change next year, and the year after that, with many details not yet ironed out by forces in Olympia.

With such uncertainty, school board members in Mukilteo — who were on the same side as teachers in the McCleary lawsuit — are getting advised to keep the current contract locked up and append it around the edges.

This challenges teachers to be creative in constructing a multi-year path to attain advances. Any agreements reached this spring will set a foundation and tone for negotiations in 2019 when the contract expires.

It took years to win the lawsuit.

A loss of public support in their celebration might take as long to win back.

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

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