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New contract gives teachers a pay boost

Editor's note: This article is amended from the version that appeared in print on Wednesday, Oct. 8. Incorrect information from the original article has been corrected in the story below.

If the school board approves a contract ratified last month by the teacher’s union, Vashon teachers, librarians and counselors will receive a 6.1 percent pay raise this year — helping to keep the district’s 100-plus educators close to the salary level of other King and Pierce county districts.

The lion’s share of that raise — 5.1 percent — is a state-mandated raise that every Washington teacher received this school year. The Vashon Education Association, which represents Island educators, was also able to negotiate another 1 percent — or the equivalent of 2 days of work during the year.

The pay raises mean that Island teachers will be paid salaries in the neighborhood of what Superintendent Terry Lindquist called Vashon's "peer districts."

Vashon compares itself to six nearby districts that it most heavily competes with for staff hiring and retention, he said.

“I don’t think we’ll be paying less than everybody in our peer group,” he said. “I think we’ll be closer to paying them the median.”

A first-year teacher with only a bachelor’s degree at a Vashon school will be paid a state-mandated base salary of $34,426, plus an additional 16 days of pay — about $2,750 — should the contract be approved. Two of those days are new addition's to this year's contract.

Teachers at the Vashon Island School District have been working for weeks without a contract after their previous three-year agreement expired in August. The new one would compensate teachers more fairly for the extra hours they put in outside their contractual duties — such as grading several classes worth of essays or serving on a district committee.

The Vashon school district, still recovering from last year’s financial shortfall, had budgeted this spring for half the 1 percent raise — leaving the district to rearrange its budget to include the additional $35,000 in teacher pay. District officials are in the midst of calculating just how to juggle its needs and cover the unanticipated cost.

On top of that, the state only funds about two-thirds of the cost of living adjustment it mandates, leaving each district to foot the bill for the rest — about $99,000 on Vashon, said Tom Dargel, the school district's business manager.

“The way the state has it set up, if we’re going to pay our teachers anything close to a living wage, it means we’re going to have to tighten our belts in other areas,” said Bob Hennessey, school board chair. “I think as a community we value paying teachers well, and so I think this comes closer to paying teachers a wage that they can live on on Vashon.”

Hennessey added that if the district paid only for the teachers that the state funds, classes would swell to 45 students apiece at the high school.

“There isn’t a district in the state that hires teachers at the ratio the state funds,” he said. “It’s a charade the state is perpetrating.”

However, Lindquist said the proposed contract would not affect class sizes.

Hennessey added that he expected the teacher contract to be approved intact at the school board meeting on Oct. 9.

But higher teacher salaries have a ripple effect. Coming from the same pot of money that pays for the district’s utilities, building maintenance, teacher training, textbooks and other curriculum materials, higher salaries mean less money is left for those other district needs, Hennessey noted.

Frustrating to many in the district is a state-imposed “levy lid” that limits the amount of taxes school districts can accept. On Vashon, as in most districts, that lid is 24 percent of the schools’ operating budget of $15 million.

Vashon has approved taxes that exceed that lid for at least the last four years but each year can’t collect several hundred thousand dollars in tax revenue because of the lid, Dargel said.

“If we could raise that levy lid, we wouldn’t need to have the bake sale that the PTSA is sponsoring,” said Kristine Nelson, president of Vashon Education Association.

Still, district officials and teachers agreed the new contract, which may force the district to find creative funding solutions, is equitable for both sides.

School board vice chair Laura Wishik called the contract a “good compromise.”

“I feel like the district went very far, because we had very limited resources, but the teachers are getting a raise — and they deserve it,” she said.

Nelson said she was glad to have a contract that “is a recognition that education professionals work far beyond a 7 to 2:30 day.”

District employees, she noted, face the important task of aligning the curriculum this year, making what is taught in each subject in each grade a continuous and seamless augmentation of the knowledge students gained in the previous year.

She said teachers may choose to spend their 13.7 hours of additional pay — the equivalent of two days' work — serving on committees, supervising a book club, on certain tasks they’d have to do anyway, or another way, as long as their administrator approves the usage of the time.

In fact, she said, a recent survey indicated that 60 percent of Vashon teachers work nearly 200 hours per semester outside those included in their contract.

Nelson added she too recognized that the meager budget the district is up against had to be taken into account in this year’s contract negotiations.

“While we would have liked to get up to the average of our peer districts, ... we also recognize the unique difficulties about the funding situation here,” she said.

Superintendent Lindquist acknowledged that even with this new contract — what he called “a fair offer for both sides” — Vashon schools may still be “lagging behind the peer districts we compare ourselves to in King and Pierce counties.”

Those peer districts, he said, are Port Townsend, South Kitsap, Franklin Pierce, Highline, Orting and Tacoma. Four of those six districts were reached on Monday, and staff at each said their district, like Vashon, compensates teachers and other certificated staff more than the state-required salary for time spent on additional responsibilities.

After this year's 1 percent additional pay, it appears Vashon would be compensating its teachers at a similar rate to its peer districts.

Compared with Vashon’s 16 days of pay is Orting Schools’ 10.75 days, Port Townsend School District’s 11 days, South Kitsap School District’s 13.5 days and Franklin Pierce Schools’ 29 days. Franklin Pierce’s days mean an extra $4,995 per year for a starting teacher, a district spokesperson said.

The next two years in the new contract also call for more additional days paid — bringing the total to 19 days in the 2010-2011 school year, Hennessey said.

Next year, under the contract, teachers will receive a 1 percent pay raise above what the state requires — another 2 days' pay — and a half-percent raise the year after that.

What’s more, Hennessey said he expected the state to require a cost of living adjustment of 2 percent in each of the next two years — all told, meaning the district could be paying each teacher up to 16 percent more in three years.

“I think we’ve achieved labor peace for three years,” Lindquist said.

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