Combined, two stories on the front page of this week’s paper are a striking sign of the times.
At both the Vashon Park District and Vashon Island School District, leaders are contending with concerns about staff salaries and wages.
These are conversations that we expect will play out again and again as islanders grapple with the question of how to pay a living wage with limited funds on an increasingly expensive island. These are hard conversations. They hit close to home, with the answers determining if people can pay their rent, how far they can stretch their grocery dollars, if they will be able to save anything for a rainy day, much less for retirement. And they have the potential to change the fabric of the island. Who can afford to live here, and who cannot? Just who will our neighbors be? At the same time, they have large implications for the organizations themselves, whether they are nonprofits, government agencies or businesses. While increasing wages carries a price, so, too, does losing staff members and recruiting and training others.
These conversations underway are not surprising to those who have been paying attention to the escalating costs of the region and the island. While easy answers are not readily apparent, there are some basic guiding principles we hope people will follow when having the conversations. Mostly, they boil down to being polite, with honesty and compassion mixed in.
At the park district meeting on Saturday, much of the conversation was passionate, but respectful, with some pointed, painful lapses. Joe Wubbold, who has attended park district meetings for years, was there and noted he feared the meetings might be headed back to the not-so-distant time when poor manners often prevailed. It would be a shame to backslide into snark.
Reasonable people can disagree on the best path forward, but surely we ought to be able to agree that nearly without fail, those who serve an organization, be it staff, board members or volunteers, have the best interest of the agencies in mind — and then choose our words accordingly.
We all come to these conversations with different expectations, perspectives and skills. Most of us are stronger in some areas than others. Some of us are dreamers; other are implementers, some of us are financial wizards, while others of us struggle to read a financial statement but can instantly read when a person is hurting. We need all of us talking — and listening— together, showing up at the table as our best selves to do the hard work of moving forward in challenging times.