EVERETT — Teachers in Everett Public Schools overwhelmingly ratified a new two-year contract Tuesday that ensures the district will continue paying the highest salary in the state for veteran classroom instructors.
Under the deal, the most experienced teachers will earn $120,776 in the coming school year, a nearly 20 percent increase from what is paid under the contract expiring this week. And they will be able to reach that plateau in 14 years rather than the 28 years under the present salary schedule.
Beginning teachers will make $54,677 in the first year under the agreement, which is about 8 percent higher than the present level. Across the board, the average increase in salary is roughly 15.5 percent, union officials said.
As Everett Education Association President Jared Kink announced the figures, the nearly 1,000 union members gathered at the Everett Civic Auditorium shouted their joy and rose for an extended standing ovation.
“We wanted to change your lives,” Kink said. “As a teacher you ought to be able to live in the community where you teach. You should be able to vacation with your family.
“You should be able to pay off your student loans,” he said. “Our district pushes us to get kids ready for college and you should be able to send your kids to college. You deserve the best contract in the state.”
When the votes were counted, only six of the 913 voting members opposed the proposal. The contract will be in front of the Everett School Board for approval at its Sept. 11 meeting.
Kink told members these negotiations were as challenging as any he’d been involved in because of changes made by the Legislature after the landmark school funding lawsuit known as McCleary.
As a result of the decision, the state has provided school districts with billions of new dollars to cover the cost of basic education, including teacher salaries. But lawmakers also reduced the amount of money that districts can collect from local property tax levies starting in 2019. They are requiring districts to project their budgets for several years into the future.
Teacher unions, which underwrote a large part of the lawsuit’s cost, have pressed to garner all the new dollars for salaries. Districts have pushed back, even resisted, out of concern that if they commit too much of this year’s windfall into salaries they might not have enough money in the future. That could force districts to cut programs or lay off teachers.
In those districts where bargaining continues, teachers in many cases are voting to strike if they do not have an agreement before contracts expire at midnight Friday.
It didn’t come to that in Everett as the district and association reached an agreement Sunday.
“In many ways you paid for McCleary,” Kink told teachers. “And you’re going to reap its benefits.”
Kink acknowledged beginning teachers in Everett will earn less under the agreement than they could make in neighboring districts like Edmonds and Lake Stevens.
But, those with a master’s degree and at least 14 years of experience will make more than peers in the state’s other 294 districts, which was the goal, Kink said.
“We look at the top end because we want to attract and retain the best teachers here,” he said. “It’s a value both the association and the school district share.”
Under the agreement, the top salary in Everett will climb from the current high of $103,500 to a new top step of $120,776 in the 2018 school year and $123,315 in the 2019 school year. The earnings in the first year eclipse the $120,234 contained in the recent agreement secured by teachers in the Shoreline School District.
A key Everett schools leader cautioned Tuesday that districts will need more action from lawmakers to ensure adequate funding in future years.
Otherwise, “while Everett has built up reserves to hold off cuts until 2020-21, with recent salary increases those cuts need to begin in 2019-20,” said Jeff Moore, executive director of finance and business.
Janet Erickson, an elementary school teacher in the Everett district since 1983, said the agreement “exceeded my expectations. It’s a really, really great contract.”
Tamra and Joshua Nelson, who team teach at Jefferson Elementary School, each said they became teary as they listened to details. With three children now in elementary and middle school, the new pay schedule will give them the ability to help with affording college.
“We are preparing kids all the time for that opportunity,” Tamra Nelson said. “We can rest assured that we can be there to help our kids.”
Elsewhere Tuesday, teachers in the Darrington School District were scheduled to vote on their proposed new contract.
In Edmonds, teachers were slated to gather to approve changes in their current contract to receive pay hikes of as much as 20 percent.
Under the deal, the annual salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will climb from $52,688 to $62,688. That $10,000 boost is a nearly 19 percent increase.
At the other end of the scale, a teacher with a master’s degree will be paid $114,272, up from the current top wage of $101,022. That amounts to a 13 percent hike.
Meanwhile, on Monday night, teachers in Lake Stevens ratified a new two-year agreement, providing an average increase of 16.9 percent in the first year.
Under the new pay schedule, a beginning teacher in Lake Stevens schools will make $58,000, while those at the top step will earn $112,984. Overall, the average salary for a certificated teacher in the district will be $91,900, according to information released jointly by the school district and Lake Stevens Education Association.
For the 2019-20 school year, there will be an additional 3.02 percent increase.
The Lake Stevens School Board is to vote on the proposed agreement Sept. 12.
In Sultan, teachers have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike that would begin as early as Saturday if there is no agreement.
Another round of bargaining was scheduled Tuesday.
Last week the Stanwood Camano Education Association authorized a strike if they are unable to reach a deal with their school district.