Teachers pack board meeting over salary bargaining

School district has declined to reopen their contract to bargain
By Brandon Gustafson | May 16, 2018
Photo by: Brandon Gustafson Teachers applauding MEA President Dana Wiebe after she spoke during the public comment section of the May 14 Mukilteo School Board meeting. Teachers were elbow to elbow in the boardroom, and so many teachers attended the meeting that they were forced to stand in the hallway outside the room.

Roughly 300 teachers in the Mukilteo School District donned red shirts and stormed the district’s school board meeting on Monday, May 14, to protest the district’s decision to not reopen their Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Teachers filled the parking lot beforehand, and about 150 stayed and packed the meeting room, with teachers elbow to elbow along the walls. So many teachers attended that many weren’t able to get into the meeting room, and had to stand in the hallway. Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self also attended the board meeting in support of the teachers.

The teachers’ frustration stems from a 2012 Washington State Supreme Court Decision, dubbed the McCleary ruling, which gives millions more to school districts across the state to help fully fund basic education.

A portion of that money was allotted for guaranteeing teacher’s salaries as well as giving them raises.

The Mukilteo School District and the teacher’s union, the Mukilteo Education Association (MEA), are currently in the second year of a three-year contract, and the district has declined the teachers’ request to bargain for new salaries. Two weeks ago, the MEA filed a grievance, citing language in their current contract that’s being violated by the district’s refusal to bargain.

“To be honest, they haven’t been communicating with us on bargaining at all,” MEA President Dana Wiebe said after the meeting. “They did not respond to the grievance, which would have been the opportunity to sit down and talk about the provisions that we’re disagreeing on and figure out how to move forward.”

During the meeting, multiple teachers and parents spoke to the board during the public comment period, urging them to get the district to come to the table.

Paige Johnson, a parent of five, said the district relies on teachers, and needs to compensate them properly.

“I’m going to share with you (the board) a secret. It’s kind of an obvious secret, but I think that maybe you guys don’t know it,” Johnson said. “It is that the district is nothing without its teachers. I don’t know of any parent or child who says, ‘Who will be on the school board this year?’ But they’re already talking about what teacher they’ll get next year.”

Johnson, who said the district’s job is to give the teachers what they need and then to get out of their way, is upset with the district’s refusal to bargain.

“I admit to being uninformed on specifics, but when I hear you’ve dismissed the teachers out of hand, that makes me sad and angry,” she said. “And it makes me think you are not representing parents fairly.”

Wiebe, who also spoke during the public comment period, talked about where the legislators wanted the money from McCleary to go.

“The McCleary decision, and the last legislative session, added billions of dollars to districts’ budgets across the state,” Wiebe said. “Legislators and the governor finally, finally, recognized years and years educators received zero percent pay raise on the base. Gov. Inslee said the extra billion this year should go to compensation. Local legislators, like Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, said the new funding should go to salaries this year.”

Wiebe also said they have the right to reopen their CBA, and there’s only one way the contract is allowed to be reopened.

“Our CBA contains relevant reopener language that the district is disregarding. To be clear, our demand to bargain is limited to legislative changes only,” she said. “Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and it is time to be appreciated by this district.”

After Wiebe spoke, representatives from each school in the district brought papers with signatures from teachers and parents to the podium.

Michael Pena, a teacher at Mariner, described his frustration as both a teacher and as a taxpayer in the Mukilteo School District.

“I pay the taxes that support our schools. I voted for every levy and bond that supports our schools, students, and teachers,” Pena said. “I have voted for more than one of you that’s sitting on the school board.”

Pena said he is so disappointed with the ongoing situation that he is considering moving his family out of the district.

“This district’s refusal to bargain disrespects every teacher in this district,” he said. “This district’s refusal to bargain disrespects the needs and rights of our students to have the best teachers available.”

Lamont Beckner, a physics teacher at Kamiak High School, has worked in the district for 27 years, and questioned the board on what would be happening if they had funding reduced, rather than increased.

Beckner said he feels disrespected by the district.

“I feel like this is a cold slap in the face after 27 years of working in the district. This is one of the most disheartening things I’ve seen,” he said. “What is the whole rationale behind that you don’t want to do that (negotiate)? It doesn’t make any logical sense.”

Beckner said some will argue the teachers should just work out their contract, but he said teachers already go above and beyond what the current contract entails.

“I think it’s important to recognize that it would be very hard to function in the district if we worked strictly the contract,” Beckner said. “I know today one of the other science teachers, he’s sitting there at 3:15 working with one of his kids, and he’s had great success with his physical science students.

“But, he’s working 45 minutes beyond the contract. That kind of stuff is what we do, and I think that needs to be recognized.”

Sobia Sheikh teaches at Mariner, and said she feels this is also very disrespectful to teachers of color in the district.

“We have been talking about how we can support teachers, especially teachers of color. We know that close to 50 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years of teaching due to lack of resources, support, and low salaries,” Sheikh said. “Now the time is here to support and retain teachers, and other teachers of color, and you refuse to negotiate.”

Sheikh asked the board how she’s to encourage students of color to become educators when their teachers aren’t properly compensated and have to come to board meetings to get the district to listen to their concerns.

Heather Craggs works as a mentor for new teachers, and said this was the first time she’d spoken at a school board meeting in her 26 years in the district.

“I am a quiet person by nature, and sit very often right over here, and this is my first time in 26 years actually speaking before you, but I felt compelled to make it tonight,” Craggs said.

She said teachers deserve to live in the district where they teach, and brought up the ever-increasing home prices in Mukilteo and Everett. She said some teachers she mentors live with their parents because they can’t afford to move out while paying off student loans and trying to save money for a reliable car and a future home.

“They want to have a future,” she said.

Craggs said the situation is like saving money for your child’s college, and then when they graduate high school, deciding to use the money on something else.

“I implore you as a district to really think about our new teachers, our current teachers, and really the regionalization factor that is so critical so they can make a livable wage and live and work in the community in which they serve,” Craggs said.

School Board President John Gahagan said, although he normally doesn’t comment after a public comment period, he felt inclined to speak.

“Of course we appreciate all you do for our kids,” Gahagan said, which prompted a male in the crowd to shout, “Then show us!”

“Let me assure you that we support our teachers, and believe in continuing to provide competitive salaries because we know that’s key to attracting the most qualified teachers to our district, and because you deserve it,” he said. “At the same time, I’m sure you’re well aware, we must comply with state law, be a good steward of taxpayer money, and make commitments that are sustainable over time.”

Gahagan said he and the other board members would work on crafting a response to the issues presented at the meeting sometime this week.

Wiebe wasn’t thrilled with his comments.

“When he says, ‘We need to conform to the law,’ then why aren’t you bargaining with us?” Wiebe said. “All we’re trying to bargain is the law, so his statement made no sense to me, and I’m hearing the murmurings of my membership coming out that that really upset them. That was almost a hurtful statement and not helpful.”

As for what’s next for the MEA, Wiebe said she’s likely going to schedule a general membership meeting to see what the teachers want to do, which could include a potential strike.

“A lot of times there’s a misnomer that the president is going to call a strike. I don’t call a strike. It’s a democratic body,” she said. “Whatever my membership directs us to do to respond to this, and if that’s what we vote and that’s what goes through, then that’s what we’ll do. Regardless, I’m not going to give up the fight, and I know my members aren’t.”

On Tuesday, Mukilteo School District spokesman Andy Muntz said the district feels they value their teachers and their current pay shows it.

“We have demonstrated how much we value our teachers by virtue of the fact that our teachers are among the highest paid in the entire state,” Muntz said. “As John Gahagan said last night, we support our teachers and believe in providing competitive salaries so that we attract the most qualified instructors to our classroom.

“The school district also must comply with state law. We must be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and only make commitments that are sustainable over time.”

Muntz also cited the current contract with the MEA, and said the district is willing to discuss compensation with the teachers.

“We are in the second year of a three-year contract with the MEA. That contract doesn’t expire until the end of August 2019,” he said. “That contract includes a pay increase for the teachers next year, yet we are willing to talk with the teachers’ union about additional compensation.

“It’s true that with changes in state law, we will be getting more money from the state, and we are more than willing to talk with the union about sharing that with teachers in the way of compensation, and to discuss the scheduling of a professional development day that was added by the legislature.”

Gahagan also gave some thoughts on the situation on Tuesday, and says the district feels they can discuss compensation without reopening the current contract.

“The district is willing to talk with the union about increasing teachers’ compensation, but we do not feel that it is necessary to reopen the entire contract to do so,” he said. “We are barely half way through the term of our three-year agreement. Under the terms of the existing contract, teachers are guaranteed a 2 percent increase in pay and we have offered to discuss further increases.”

Gahagan also echoed the thoughts he shared on Monday regarding keeping teachers well compensated.

“We are proud that Mukilteo teachers are among the highest paid in the state which enables us to attract the best and the brightest. And we want this to continue,” Gahagan said.

 

 

It’s a sea of red! Hundreds of teachers met in the Mukilteo School District office’s parking lot prior to the May 14 school board meeting. There were chants of, “What time is it? Bargain time!” (Photo by: Brandon Gustafson)
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