Salary increase discussions heat up between Aberdeen School District and teachers

The Aberdeen School District has proposed a 15 percent salary increase for teachers this upcoming school year, but union representatives are not satisfied with it, saying the offer — which comes with longer workdays — does not make up for years in which they were underpaid.

The AEA, the district’s teacher union, has been in bargaining sessions with district officials and its members want a significant raise.

With a new state education funding model taking effect in 2019, Washington school districts will receive a boost to their state funding, and many unions have already successfully bargained for higher teacher salaries. The Legislature finally satisfied the state Supreme Court that the state has a plan to adequately fund education and there is almost $5 million in additional state funding coming to Aberdeen starting in 2019.

Aberdeen Superintendent Alicia Henderson said she thinks the 15 percent increase is a competitive offer, but AEA president Michelle Reed says it’s “nowhere near what has been negotiated in other school districts.”

“In fact, the current proposal from the Aberdeen School District administration and school board actually would move us backward compared to other school districts in our state,” Reed wrote in an email to The Daily World.

Along with classroom teachers, this raise would apply to nurses, counselors, psychologists, speech and occupational therapists, and specialist teachers. Groups such as athletic coaches, maintenance and food providers have separate unions, and would not be affected by the proposed raise.

One of the concerns Reed and other AEA members have is that along with the salary increase, the district proposed a longer, eight-hour workday.

“Let’s be clear: They are not proposing a 15 percent pay raise,” wrote Reed. “… They just want to pay us for working additional hours. More pay for more work isn’t a raise. We need to be compensated professionally for the work we’re already doing — which is educating our community’s children.”

District officials said that previously, teachers’ workdays had been set at 7.5 hours for grades seven through 12, and 7.25 hours for elementary teachers, which both include paid lunch time.

Aberdeen Superintendent Alicia Henderson said she doesn’t think it’s a major shift, and that the lengthened hours were proposed to offer teachers more planning time, “primarily for elementary staff.”

“We have a lot of staff already working eight hours,” said Henderson. “I don’t know it would be a big change for the majority of our faculty anyways.”

Donna Portmann, a high school English teacher, also feels the district’s offer is not a true pay raise because of the longer hours. She said with the eight-hour requirement, it would stack up to 12 additional work days each year.

“Add 12 days to your work year, and tell me if that’s a raise,” said Portmann after this Tuesday’s Aberdeen School Board meeting. “And they want the contract to go over four years. I’m not a math teacher, but that’s a lot of work.”

According to the Washington Education Association (WEA) website, some districts have secured teacher raises higher than 15 percent this year, while a few districts are right around it or a few percent lower. The Ocean Beach Education Association, for example, negotiated a 21.1 percent salary increase. Bainbridge Island teachers had a similar raise of 21.2 percent.

However, district officials say there are certain aspects of the new state funding model that cause other districts to benefit more than Aberdeen and make it hard to offer a higher raise.

Under the new model, school districts that meet an “experience factor” — and have a higher percentage of teachers who have taught longer or hold higher degrees — get a 4 percent boost to their state funding. Both the Montesano and Elma school districts are receiving that extra money.

There’s also extra money for areas where the cost of living is higher. Depending on average housing costs, school districts where it’s more expensive to live get anywhere from 6 to 24 percent more in state funding.

Seattle, Highline and Bellevue school districts are all receiving 18 percent more in state funding because of their higher living costs. Aberdeen did not meet the criteria for these financial boosts, and district officials say it limits potential teacher raises.

“(The districts) don’t even compare, because they did get additional money from the state like we did, but they also got an incredible bump for living in a high-cost area, regionalization or for having a very (experienced) high staff mix,” said Henderson. “We didn’t get either, and that would’ve been money clearly directed for this.”

State cuts to local funding are another reason district officials say it’s hard to increase the raise amount. Starting in January, Aberdeen will have to drop its school levy tax from $4.31 to $1.50 per $1,000 worth of property value for district residents.

With the cuts to local funding, the district reports online that the net increase in funding is less than $2 million.

Reed feels, though, that funding differences between school districts have always been present, and said despite not receiving the experience or high living cost benefits, the district will be receiving more and should pay teachers better.

“There always have been budget and funding differences between school districts. That’s nothing new,” wrote Reed. “Aberdeen public schools are getting millions of additional dollars. We expect the Aberdeen School Board to do the right thing for our students and invest in competitive, professional pay raises for our teachers.”

Reed wrote in a WEA news release that the district’s total budget will increase “by nearly $3 million” in the upcoming school year, and that the district has a “multi-million budget surpluss.”

Following the July 30 bargaining session, the district decided to post its 15 percent raise offer — part of a 53-page proposal — and other bargaining session notes online (under the “Collective Bargaining” link on the district home page). Henderson said these were posted both because she feels it’s a fair offer and to give the public more transparency.

Along with notes, the district website now has a “Frequently Asked Questions” section, that gives information like administrators’ salary increases for promotions last year. These include Elyssa Louderback, who received a $17,639 pay increase after she was promoted from finance director to executive director of business and operations. Jim Sawin, who was promoted from director of human resources to Assistant Superintendent, received a $19,958 pay increase.

With the district’s proposed raise, a first-year teacher in the district would have an annual salary of $45,400, plus $1,513 if they attend six professional development days. Teachers get paid more depending on if they have more years teaching, higher degrees or additional semesters of classes above a bachelor’s degree. A teacher with 16 years of service and a Ph.D., for example, gets the maximum salary amount of $88,423.

For a teacher with a master’s degree and eight years of service, they would get $61,113, plus $2,037 for development days.

The district also reported online that the average teacher salary in 2018-19 would be $72,491.

At the July 30 collective bargaining meeting, the AEA provided its own contract proposal, but Reed said that would not be made public.

“At this stage in the process, we don’t believe that bargaining in public is the most appropriate way to reach a fair and equitable settlement,” she wrote.

District officials will meet again with the AEA on Aug. 15, when they will work to develop a counter-proposal.

In June, the AEA approved a strike authorization by a margin of 97 percent. This doesn’t mean the district will strike, but it gives the AEA’s bargaining team the authority to call for one. If they did call for a strike, the AEA members would need to vote again to confirm it.

“Obviously we are hoping we can begin the school year on time for our students and community,” said Henderson.

Erik Peterson, vice president for the AEA, said the district’s offer is “disrespectful and is making Aberdeen teachers angry.” In terms of a potential teacher strike, Peterson said he hopes things can be settled soon.

“We will have a greater understanding of how hard we are going to have to fight for fair pay before school starts,” said Peterson. “I hope the district will become more respectful and reasonable soon.”