Sequim teachers and the Sequim School District seem to be making strides to be a unified district.
Sequim Education Association president Diana Piersoll and Sequim Schools superintendent Gary Neal stood together as they announced at the school board meeting on Oct. 2 that a tentative agreement was made regarding teacher contracts.
“Now we have all the nuts and bolts,” Piersoll said. “We will have (the agreement) ready to go by the next board meeting.”
Board member Robin Henrikson asked if there would be another opportunity to ask questions about the agreement and Neal said there would be at the next board meeting.
“At this point everything is not completely finalized, so it’s a little premature to start talking about it,” Neal said.
Members of SEA, the Sequim teachers’ union, set a deadline for a possible strike on or later than Sept. 27 if their bargaining team had not reached an agreement with the district by that date.
This was not the case, however, as the association and district representatives came to a tentative agreement on contracts for the 2017-2018 school year on Sept. 25.
Once the agreement was made, SEA members voted on Sept. 28 to ratify the agreement, with 86 percent voting in its favor.
The school board also was set to vote to ratify the agreement at the Oct. 2 meeting but was told by Piersoll and Neal that the contract was not ready to be presented to board members.
Several board members addressed the teachers for coming to a resolution.
“Thank you for coming to a resolution and we look forward to the next steps,” Henrikson said.
“We see your effort and recognize that,” Brian Kuh, board vice president said.
Piersoll said there is some healing that still needs to be done between the teachers’ union and the district, but they are off to a good start.
She said the contract the union negotiated for will only last one year and it will have to start the bargaining process again next April or sooner.
SEA and representatives from the Washington Education Association (WEA), the state teachers union, said this was a crucial year for teachers to bargain for the contract they wanted because the new state budget will change how teachers’ salaries are allotted in the future.
Representatives said teacher salaries are going to be based on a state average of teacher salaries across all districts in Washington state and will be implemented over the next several years.
“There’s two numbers you can bargain from,” Cristi McCorkle, WEA UniServ representative said.
“One is the state average — they take all the districts and average the pay together,” she said. “The other is taking your own supplemental and money you’ve generated in your local and averaging that.”
“So what we want to do is bargain for whatever is greater,” McCorkle added.
As far as the current contract the teachers’ union bargained for this year, SEA and WEA representatives said teachers made gains in class size overload pay at the elementary school level, increases in supplemental stipends for staff, input on the Instructional Materials Committee and adding seven full time staff members to the district.
As far as the overcrowding of students at Greywolf Elementary School, Piersoll said the district is working with SEA to figure out a solution.
“We have an agreement we’re working through,” Piersoll said.
Neal confirmed the school board is set to vote on ratifying the teacher contract agreement at the next school board meeting on Monday, Oct. 16.
“Thursday (Sept. 28) it was ratified and Friday (Sept. 29) we had members from each side that were working on the collective bargaining agreement terminology,” Neal said.
“We had been working on that since April, cleaning up some language and changing some different things,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t rush the process.”
He said when negotiations started last April the state budget had not come out yet and it wasn’t until August when district staff were able to start a conversation about teacher salaries.
Neal also said this year would mark a starting point for how teacher salaries would be implemented over time with the new state budget.
“This year has been set aside as a base line to see what happens around the state,” Neal said.
“The state’s going to collect the salaries from all the different districts and then they’re going to study what the mean salary is and that’s what they’re going to use as their base.”
He said the state will study teacher salaries this academic year, while next year (2018-2019) the state will fund an increase at 50 percent of its goal. The following year (2019-2020) is when the state is aiming to fully implement state school funding.
“I’m trying to keep my fingers crossed because things could change between now and then,” Neal said. “There’s a lot of ‘ifs’.”