Bargaining Update: Why should our community be concerned about teachers’ pay?

Of course educators need to be able to afford to live in our community, and pay our bills, and raise our families. The amount we earn is also a concrete way the district expresses its respect for our professional skills. But equally important, pay is a key yardstick for Kent’s ability to compete in hiring and keeping great teachers, which is the most important factor schools can influence to improve every child’s education.KEA members already know the numbers, and they’re grim. We rank 80th statewide in pay for new teachers. We’re behind Seattle and Bellevue and Snohomish and Lake Washington and Mukilteo. We trail Edmonds, Everett, Mercer Island, Tukwila, Issaquah, Shoreline, Northshore, Renton, Auburn, Federal Way and Tacoma. But we’ve also fallen behind lesser powerhouses. The pay for new teachers in Kent ranks below Sultan. Granite Falls. Lakewood. Enumclaw. In Blaine, on the rural border with Canada, the district has made teacher pay a greater priority than in Kent. So has White River. Wapato. Dieringer. Even tiny communities like Orting, Crescent, Mabton and Ridgefield have found the resources to pay their teachers more than in Kent. Fair pay can be a priority, in districts large or small.

So when KEA’s bargainers discussed statewide salary rankings during negotiations Thursday, we would have expected the district to be alarmed or, at the least concerned, about the implications here for quality schools. We were only half right. The district expressed concern — concern that KEA was somehow twisting the statistics by focusing on pay for beginning teachers, even though they did not dispute the facts.

Once again the district chose to deflect and avoid, instead of hearing or seriously acknowledging another of our three key concerns over time, workload and compensation. And, once again, it was an ill-informed diversion: We already are failing to hold onto great veteran teachers. Salary comparisons for our top-paid staff are almost as grim as for new hires.

For our most-experienced educators, Kent offers $9,235 above the state-funded salary base to reflect our additional duties for Time, Responsibility and Incentive, or TRI. You could earn nearly double that in Everett, which paid $17,264 in TRI this past school year to its top veterans. Mukilteo paid $15,182. Bellevue, $14,899. Lake Washington, $14,806. The list keeps going. For veteran teachers, Kent ranks 17 out of 20 comparable districts (and that’s including our stipends).

At the bargaining table, we’re asking for a cleaner so-called “shadow schedule” to reflect our current TRI duties. It would boost overall pay by about 6 percent, while at the same time reducing district accounting expenses for tracking individual time sheets for the various TRI activities as required under our previous contracts. The district’s response Thursday: Little more than a sneer.

“If we indiscriminately cancel programs, then we could afford just about anything,” David Alfred, the district’s hired outside negotiator, told our bargaining team.

We shouldn’t need to remind our administrators that they are expected to provide expertise beyond “indiscriminately” canceling programs to guide our schools. A district’s budget should deliberately reflect community values and carefully considered choices. Time, workload and compensation are real issues for our members, with real impacts on our students. They impact the individual attention students receive, the size of their classes and the quality of their teachers. They are issues important enough for us to fight for, and for the district to seriously balance against other priorities, including new program adoptions, administrative overhead and reasonable but not excessive cash reserves. Our requests are affordable based on the district’s own financial projections, and have already been moderated to reflect the current economic climate. They deserve more than a flippant dismissal.

“They brought nothing today,” KEA chief bargainer Mike McNett concluded after hearing the district’s response. “Thursday’s 4-hour bargaining session was unproductive.”

The one area where there was substantive discussion Thursday, although no tentative agreement, involved procedures and plans for dealing with violent students, and to what degree teacher input would be respected. The district also offered a hint that administrators will finally begin to seriously bargain other issues at the next session, just a month before KEA members meet to ratify a tentative contract agreement or vote to strike.

“We anticipate by our next bargaining session we will have some significant, substantial statements to make,” the district’s Alfred said.

We hope so. If the district adopted KEA’s salary proposal, we would climb above 80th in teacher pay, but still rank a distant 27th based on salaries for this past school year. We’d remain behind Seattle and Highline, but also behind Sultan, Granite Falls and Ferndale. Perhaps the district will come back with a significant initiative to move Kent forward into the top 10, or even the top 20. Perhaps Kent will finally understand that budgets are an expression of community priorities, not just administrative control. Perhaps the district will realize that while time, workload and compensation are important issues for our members, they also directly benefit our students.

Upcoming dates:

  • Next bargaining session: July 23
  • KEA general membership meeting for contract ratification or strike vote: 5 p.m. Aug. 26, Kentlake High School

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5 Responses to “Bargaining Update: Why should our community be concerned about teachers’ pay?”

  1. Mike Mullay Says:

    Speaking now as a retired former Kent teacher, I can tell you that after my 16th year of experience, I did not receive any kind of salary increase from the KSD and only a couple laughable COLA’s from the state in my remaining 14 years of teaching full time. Keep in mind the last 22 years of my full time 30 year employ was in Kent. At the end of my 30th year after being micro-managed to death by the KSD I decided retiring even though my daughter was just about to enter a four year university with all of its attendant expenses was better than continuing to teach. The many years of the KEA’s practice of “collaborative bargaining” with the KSD has really come back to bite us in the butt, and of course will impact my retirement pension for the rest of my life. It might not hurt for you who are still full time teachers in Kent who might still be sitting on the fence to understand that what happens in the next few weeks of bargaining will affect you for the rest of your lives whether or not you choose to continue to teach or seek a career in the private sector. Despite the hardships and hard feelings a strike will cause if the KSD does not start bargaining in good faith and really take steps at the negotiating table to redress the grievances against the KEA and its membership be prepared to accept the fact that there really may be no other choice but to strike, unless your choice is to continue to teach in an increasingly sub-standard school district which cares little about its students, its parents and its teachers and cares only about the bottom line. The KSD has always been about “stack ’em deep, and teach ’em cheap and we the members of the KEA appear more than ever to be the only ones who can change that.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with the first poster on here. KEA tried to collaborate with KSD for many past years, which gave us our coveted 80th place in salary for WA state. For a district our size, this is ridiculous!

    I am also amazed by the few certificated KEA members who whine about KEA’s tactics and why can’t we just get along with KSD? It’s quite obvious those few KEA members are uneducated about how negotiations work.

    It’s time for KSD to cut administrators’ salaries, cut those extraneous positions that only work with data within schools (btw, all teachers know where they’re students are academically–we don’t need a data specialist to tell us what we already know), and put that money they would save from cuts into hiring CLASSROOM TEACHERS TO REDUCE CLASS SIZE! It’s that simple.

  3. Teacher Says:

    PLEASE do not give up on the shadow schedule! There was a $500 difference between two consecutive months this year and it really made it tough on a one income household as far as making the house payment and budget things ahead.

  4. Theresa Says:

    Salary differences are an important issue for all of us to recognize. I have a friend who works in Snohomish. She has her PhD, teaches in special ed, and earns $90k a year!
    Another friend left KSD and begins a new job in Issaquah in August. She was a dept. head. She will also earn $6k more next year!
    Our district has $20 million in the bank, is paying our new superintendent $240,000 a year, and refuses to treat us like professionals. We deserve time, a reasonable workload, and fair compensation. If not now, when?

  5. Elementary Level Says:

    Can someone tell me why it seems that the District is not overly concerned about the possibility that our members may vote for a strike?

    What is their story to the community?

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