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Spokane teachers union OKs contract, averts strike

Members of the Spokane Education Association approved a tentative one-year contract on Tuesday, avoiding a possible strike that could have begun today. The Spokane Public Schools board is expected to approve the plan at tonight’s board meeting. 

“I’m just so, so happy the members here tonight recognized the hard work the bargaining teams did,” union President Jenny Rose said. “I would do a happy dance but I’m not a good dancer.”

The one-year contract passed with 1,380 yes votes out of 1,457 total. As expected, the contract increased salaries for instructional assistants and food service workers. 

“We’re thrilled,” said Spokane Public Schools spokesman Kevin Morrison. “Not only (with) the vote outcome but the number that turned out for it. And now the teachers and support staff, and entire district can go on with the important work that we do every day in our classrooms.”

Rose said most of the changes wouldn’t be noticeable to parents. However, the 30-minute districtwide late Thursday start will be phased out by Oct. 1. Additionally, the contract reserves time for evening parent-teacher conferences, something some schools were doing already. 

“All parents need to understand is they will have plenty of flexibility,” Rose said of the conferences.

All bargaining groups received some compensation increases. Nutrition service workers saw a 9.5 percent increase, as did instructional assistants. Teachers received a 7 percent increase, however some of that was in the form of benefits and other nonmonetary compensation. Secretarial workers received an 8.5 percent increase, custodial workers received a 5 percent increase and unified trade workers received a 4 percent increase. 

“We’re not striking,” said Linwood Elementary fifth-grade teacher Chuck Parker. “The kids are taken care of. That’s the important thing.”

As union members squeezed into Rogers High School on Tuesday evening they were given packets summarizing the agreement. They were then addressed by Rose and representatives from the bargaining teams. Rose estimated that the bargaining teams spent 150 hours in the past five days negotiating the contract.

“I’m pleased,” instructional assistant Ronda Dahl said. “I’m really happy.”

However, not everyone felt the way Dahl did.

“In the end, I don’t think we came out ahead at all because they will raise our insurance,” said Tammy Schumacher, a nutrition services worker at Rogers High School. “They really didn’t address anything in our area at all.”

In addition to concerns about support staff compensation, union leadership was concerned that members hadn’t received cost-of-living adjustments in the past six years, Rose said. 

However, according to Spokane Public Schools officials, the district has provided raises, they just aren’t called raises. Instead they’re known as “steps.” The step pay scale factors in a teacher’s experience and education to determine what they’re paid.

“I think if I talked to my wife who works in private care … and she was suddenly to get a 4 or 5 percent increase in bring home pay she would say, ‘Hey, I got a raise,’ ” Morrison said last week.

Although the state is constitutionally obligated to support education, in the past districts have partially supported teacher pay themselves. So, whether employees received increases was determined by individual districts. Although Spokane Public Schools hasn’t provided specific cost-of-living increases, teachers and other school support staff have received increases in other ways, Morrison said.

The 2012 Washington Supreme Court McCleary ruling determined that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education. That’s why this year’s teacher contract included a cost-of-living increase provided by the state. However, union officials believed more was needed. 

The eight bargaining groups the SEA represents are teachers, instructional aides, secretarial and clerical, custodial workers, nutrition service workers, student specialists and security personnel, express workers and painters and mechanics.

“This is a lot of work by a lot of people,” Rose said. 

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