Hundreds of Spokane Public Schools employees sent a message to the school board Wednesday night: “We’re angry!”
Union members packed the board of directors meeting to express disappointment that school board members approved raises for 104 school principals and administrators while 1,700 of the union’s 3,000 members – those who work with students – saw a pay cut.
“The morale of hard-working employees in this school district is dismal,” said Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association president. “People are feeling overworked with district mandates, overused, and not being recognized for the job they are doing. … It is disappointing that we must express our position of no confidence (in the board) at this time. … We believe the board is not being a responsible steward of public funds.”
A standing ovation, cheers and clapping followed Rose’s statement; the board president pounded her gavel for the standing-room-only crowd to settle down.
Bob Douthitt, board vice president, defended the board’s decision Wednesday by emphasizing it was a small percentage of the total budget and only represents about $230,000 annually. Director Rocky Treppiedi added that he “whole-heartedly disagrees with the statement that they (the board) are not good stewards of taxpayers’ money.”
Spokane Public Schools officials – from principals to top administrators – received pay increases of 3 percent or more this summer according to district records obtained by The Spokesman-Review that compare 2009-’10 salary schedules to 2010-’11. Superintendent Nancy Stowell’s total compensation was the exception, rising less than 2 percent.
Rose felt that the union’s showing at the board meeting will have an impact.
“They didn’t know what hit them,” she said.
A local businessman also spoke Wednesday.
“It’s not the percentage of pay increase. … This is about poor leadership,” said Steven Cree, adding it’s also about public perception. “This is a time when we need to be able to pass levies. … Because of this, we may not be able to.”
While the state pays an average of $59,929 toward administrative salaries, the rest comes from local levy dollars. In the Spokane district, 63 administrators have a base salary of $100,000 or higher.
“Be in touch with who your customers are,” Cree said.
Washington teachers receive a 3 percent pay increase in each of the first 16 years they are employed. But in the past three years, those pay bumps have been countered with pricier health care premiums and three fewer paid days. For teachers with more than 16 years, that has meant a pay cut in each of the past three years.
Rose used her own salary as an example. She’s been a teacher in Washington for 19 years; her pay check last month was $400 lighter than it was two years ago.
The pay hike for administrators stemmed from a bargaining agreement with the district’s principals union for an additional reward for years of service, district officials said. Because of a district philosophy that supervisors should be paid more than those they oversee, the pay bumps rippled up from principals to the district’s top leadership. After leaving Wednesday’s board meeting, Rose said, “We are not done.”