A stream of red flowed from outside the Sequim High School auditorium and into the Sequim school board room on Sept. 5 as teachers and supporters crammed together to stand in solidarity for fair teacher pay.
Sequim Education Association, the Sequim teachers’ union, remains in mediation with Sequim School District as of Sept. 12 over teacher contracts and salaries and supporters of fair teacher pay have been making appearances wearing red T-shirts and clothing at school board meetings over the last several weeks to put pressure on the district.
Cristi McCorkle, a representative with Washington Education Association — the state teacher union — said she and two other WEA representatives were in Sequim this week to help with mediation and provided support for local teachers.
“Amazing staff, amazing teachers here,” McCorkle said. “(But) significantly underpaid.”
One of the large discrepancies in pay for Sequim teachers compared to surrounding school districts, such as Port Angeles and Port Townsend, is in additional compensation known as Time, Responsibility and Incentive (TRI) Days.
The state allows additional compensation for additional time, responsibilities or incentives for teachers with the TRI Days statute. Each district in conjunction with its employees and collective bargaining units determine what are the necessary qualifying activities for supplemental pay.
The state’s beginning pay for teachers in Sequim, Port Angeles and Port Townsend School Districts for the 2017-2018 school year is $36,521 for teachers in their first year and $68,836 by year 16, according to numbers presented by McCorkle.
Sequim School District teachers only receive 15.7 TRI days with the local beginning additional pay $3,185 for year 1 and $6,007 by year 16.
Port Angeles School District receives 31 TRI days, with $6,290 in beginning additional pay for year 1 and $11,854 by year 16. Port Townsend School District receives 27.5 TRI days and earns $5,579 for year 1 in additional pay and $10,516 in additional ending pay for 16 years.
McCorkle said mediation between the teachers and district was scheduled to continue through the day on Sept. 6.
While staffers made comments at the school board meeting on Aug. 21, several individuals spoke during public comments at the board meeting on Sept. 5, on behalf of valuing teachers within the district.
Stuart Marcy, a Spanish teacher at Sequim High School, said there has been no change in enrollment over the last 10 years and said, “We got our priorities out of order,” suggesting the district held administrative priorities over teachers.
“I have value as a teacher in this community,” Marcia Garrett, a Sequim Middle School science teacher said at the Sept. 5 school board meeting.
Garrett said she is five to six years away from retirement and the highest pay she has received will be from her previous school district.
Following the public comments, Sequim school board president Heather Short said, “We do appreciate you; we have heard you.” Board member Jim Stoffer added, “As we start a new school year, it’s important we evaluate our goals.”
The board went into executive session following the board meeting to discuss mediation for 45 minutes.
Following negotiations over the summer that failed to produce working contracts for Sequim teachers, local representatives asked for assistance in negotiations through the Public Employees Relations Commission — a state agency with jurisdiction over public sector labor relations and collective bargaining.
According to the school district, the commission assists parties in resolving contract negotiations without any costs to either party.
Diana Piersoll, Sequim Education Association president, said teachers have a general membership meeting scheduled for Sept. 13 for “steps up to and including a strike vote.”
Sequim Middle School Language Arts teacher Jason Chadick said he took a pay-cut to teach in Sequim.
“The first school district I worked at, I’ve seen what happens when a school district does not have enthusiastic teachers,” Chadick said. “It’s a sad, sad place, and this is not like that.”
Leif Hendricksen, a Sequim Middle School history teacher with three years experience in the district, is a Sequim High School graduate. He said he came back to Sequim because he has family in the area.
“We want to stay here in Sequim,” Hendricksen said.
“We want to get paid for the work that we do,” he said. “We are asked to develop extra curriculum. We are asked to stay late and do extra things and they’re not paying us for it, and we want to be paid for it.”
Hendricksen said the difference in pay between Sequim and surrounding districts on the Olympic Peninsula is significant, money that could be put back into the Sequim community is local teachers were paid better.
“It’s hard to feel valued and get excited about going to work when the town 10 miles that way and 10 miles this way is clearly valuing their teachers more, when it comes to local dollars,” Chadick said, referring to surrounding school districts such as Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
“And that’s why we’re here — because we believe that Sequim can value their teachers, too.”
Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal said that Sequim School District is still in negotiations with the teachers’ union as of Tuesday, Sept. 12, and they will meet again tomorrow. “After that, we will have more information on mediation,” Neal said.
“I believe we’re both there to come to a resolve,” he said. “I truly feel that, and they do too.”
In response to the groups in red showing their solidarity for teacher pay at the school board meetings, Neal said, “I think it’s important everyone communicates and gets the correct data and information.”
“Always ask us about any information; if there is something (someone) is not sure of, they have a good resource to confirm those things,” he added.