Vashon teacher salaries will rise 10 percent this fall

Vashon public school teachers will see their salaries increase an average of 10 percent in the next school year, after union members approved a one-year collective bargaining agreement with the Vashon Island School District.

The previous contract had called for a 4 percent increase next year, but the negotiation process was re-opened to provide for increased money coming from the state through the McCleary funding plan. The negotiation process was not a simple one, district and union leaders agree, and resulted in the salary increase for teachers — deemed important by both sides — as well as cuts to a variety of programs, ranging from supplies to clubs. In all, district officials estimate that the raises, the largest district teachers have ever received, will cost between $550,000 and $600,000.

In the past two years, the state has provided a total of $2 billion extra specifically for teacher salaries to comply with the McCleary Decision, which mandated the state fully fund basic education.

On Vashon, however, the picture is complicated with district and union leaders disagreeing on how much, if any, extra money the district will receive next year.

District officials have said they will not have any. The extra money they are receiving from the state is offset by cuts from the federal government and local levy funds, former Superintendent Michael Soltman said. As a result, he said the district is left with a $1.4 million increase over last year’s budget — the amount the district would have received without McCleary money and only enough to cover the previously agreed upon 4 percent increases.

Leaders of the teachers’ union, the Vashon Education Association, disagree. They say because of information they have received from Washington Education Association (WEA), they believe that Vashon is getting more money than district leaders have presented. As a result, it took some time to try to reconcile the different information, understand the complex budgeting process and come to an agreement.

Jenny Granum, a district math teacher and a member of the Vashon union bargaining team, and Glenda Berliner, the co-president of the union, declined to say how much WEA indicated Vashon would be receiving, but WEA’s messaging is that state-wide, teachers should see salary increases of 15 percent and support staff should see increases of 37 percent.

Higher salaries are important to teachers,’ whose pay is lower than many other professions, Granum and Berliner said, and has not kept up with inflation. They also stressed that higher teacher pay is important for the strength of the district.

“We don’t want Vashon teachers to leave for other professions or to teach in other districts. School districts across the state are increasing teacher salaries, and we need to keep up to compete,” they said in a joint written statement.

Granum stressed that point in a phone conversation.

“When you can go across the water and make $12,000 more a year, that is going to drive teachers there,” she said.

Soltman, who retired last Friday, said he and other district leaders agreed that teachers should be paid more for their work, but without more money from the state, it is difficult to provide it.

“We wanted to increase our salaries to stay as competitive as we can,” Soltman said. “The struggle is how to pay for it.”

Last week, he provided a list of programs that will likely be affected by the cuts. In addition to supplies and clubs, other areas slated for reductions include professional development, replacement of custodial equipment and curriculum.

Explaining the cuts, Soltman said that 80 percent of the district’s budget goes to salaries and personnel costs, so there were few possibilities for funding the salary increases. He added that while the cuts might be manageable this year, they will not be sustainable over time.

Zabette Macomber, the chair of the school board, agreed.

“This gets us back to the scarcity model,” she said, noting that all three schools will be affected, as will parents, all departments and teachers.

Granum and Berliner, however, disagree strongly with the message that in the post-McCleary era paying teachers a professional salary requires cutting student programs.

“I want to make it clear that any cuts are the district’s decision,” Berliner said.

In addition to the program cuts, teachers made concessions of their own, no longer earning extra pay if their class sizes increase above a certain number and eliminating an extended leave policy.

The new salary range for teachers was not available at press time, and will be added to the online version of this story. However, the state’s salary schedule from last year shows that the base salary for a new teacher was about $36,000 while the base salary for a teacher with an advanced degree and 16 or more years of experience is approximately $68,000. All Vashon teachers earn above this base salary, but the amount varies from teacher to teacher and is dependent on several variables.

While the negotiations have ended with the teachers’ union, they will begin next month with the Vashon Education Support Personnel Union, which includes para-educators, administrative staff and playground and lunch monitors. Last month Co-President Mary Reeves said they are seeking increases so that none of its 45 members earn less than $20 per hour.

Soltman said he expects those increases will cost between $100,000 and $200,000 and that hours and positions will need to be reduced to arrive at a balanced budget, which the district is required to have.

Macomber, who previously called the state funding situation “a set-up to fail,” concurred.

“There is no new money for the Vashon Education Association and no new money for Vashon Education Support Personnel,” she said.

The difference between the union and district stances is evident in this situation as well.

“The raise the teachers received should not affect the pay raise for para-educators. The money that has come in from McCleary should be sufficient to give them the money they deserve to make a living wage. The VEA is in strong support of the Vashon Educator Support Personnel,” Berliner said in an email.

One of the problems, both sides agree, centers on part of the McCleary plan called “regionalization.” Based on median home values of communities around the state, legislators have allocated variable amounts of extra revenue, above a base amount, for teacher salaries. These amounts range from none in some areas to 6,12, and 18 percent in others. A few areas are receiving 24 percent — all to apply to teacher salaries. Vashon, however, will receive just 12 percent next year, while many nearby districts will receive 18 percent. The difference, Soltman said, is nearly $600,000 — roughly the cost of the salary increases.

Now, Soltman said, negotiations, like those on Vashon, are going on throughout the state.

“The big winners are settling easy because they have the money. The losers are going to have very challenging negotiations because they will be forced to reduce staffing and programming to increase compensation, like we were,” he said.

Both he and Macomber said they talked to Vashon’s legislators repeatedly about the regionalization issue, but the situation was not addressed. They will try again in the next legislative sessions, as will island teachers, Granum and Berliner said.

“We all need to work together at the state level and make sure we get to 18 percent,” Granum said.

Looking forward, Granum and Berliner say they plan to retain the progress they have made in their salaries and maintain their benefits, including a wellness leave model that attracts teachers to Vashon.

“The need for competitive compensation for teachers will continue, and Vashon teachers are prepared for a strong bargain again next year,” they said.

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