Education

Spokane teachers and school board reach salary deal

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After weeks of talks and four days of mediated negotiations, Spokane Public Schools and the Spokane Education Association reached a tentative agreement Tuesday night on a new contract for teachers and other employees.

Details won’t be revealed until the SEA holds a meeting, probably on Thursday, said SEA President Katy Henry.

“I’m very pleased, and I’m very hopeful that our members will be able to agree on it,” Henry said. She will present the deal to more than 3,000 teachers and classified employees later this week.

For Spokane Public Schools, the tentative agreement represents “an important investment in the School District’s teaching and support staff to attract and retain the best employees,” the district said in a statement.

After two frustrating days of negotiations Friday and Saturday, talks gained momentum Monday.

The SEA had scheduled a membership meeting Tuesday night at Rogers High School, but Henry said the talks progressed Tuesday “when we made the decision to postpone the meeting because the team wanted more time.”

Monday night, teachers in the Mead School District ratified a new contract that included raises of at least 15 percent.

Those numbers resemble deals consummated on the west side of the state, some of which exceeded 20 percent.

“It was great news,” Henry said.

However, earlier Monday, their counterparts at East Valley settled for less than 7 percent, one of the lowest in the state.

“Talks were amicable, and now we’re ready to start the school year,” said East Valley Superintendent Kelly Shea, who will do just that Wednesday morning.

The vastly different outcomes beg the question: Which contract – and which tax base – better represents the long-term realities of the Spokane School District?

In other words, is Spokane more like Greenacres or Country Homes?

For both sides, life after the McCleary court decision comes down to one word: sustainability.

Administrators question whether double-digit salary increases for teachers are sustainable in the long run.

“It must be remembered that a district can only give what is sustainably provided them by the state,” wrote Spokane Superintendent Shelley Redinger and her counterparts from Central Valley, East Valley and West Valley.

“Without adequate financial support the new model will fail to satisfy basic education funding commitments,” it continued.

The Mead contract increases the salary for a beginning teacher from $41,500 to $48,263, a jump of 16.3 percent.

At the top end of the pay scale, teachers with at least 16 years of experience, a master’s degree and other qualifications will have their salary jump from $85,000 to $97,823 – an increase of 15.1 percent.

The new deal also reduces caseloads in the elementary special education resource rooms, allowing teachers to give more attention to those students.

In Tuesday’s Spokesman-Review, Henry and her counterparts at Central Valley, West Valley and East Valley disputed the districts’ claims.

“School districts in the state are going to have substantially more money in each of the next three school years compared to the past. Billions more,” they wrote. “Funding may fluctuate, but districts will have more money overall than they have this year.”

As of Tuesday night, Mead and East Valley were the only districts out of 19 in Spokane County that had ratified contracts.

West Valley announced a tentative deal Monday, with details to be revealed later this week.

Central Valley, the county’s second-largest district, is still negotiating with its union.

The state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling in 2012 determined the state was underfunding its schools. The court mandated fully funded education by 2018, but did not specify how that money should be allocated by school districts.

The major shift in Washington’s model for paying for public education has led to a hectic negotiation season across the state that saw teachers in two districts go on strike Tuesday, the same day teachers and school staff in Seattle voted to authorize a strike if negotiations don’t yield a tentative agreement by the first day of school, Sept. 5.

The Legislature designated an extra $2 billion statewide this year for compliance, with $27.7 million allocated for Spokane Public Schools.

The SEA sought all of that $27.7 million for salary increases, including $20 million for certificated staff, which includes teachers, psychologists and counselors, and $7.7 million for classified employees.

The district does not have to allocate the money for salaries. However, administrators have stated the district wants to spend that money on hiring new teachers to comply with state mandates addressing overcrowding in kindergarten-through-third-grade classrooms in addition to higher salaries for existing staff.