Across Washington state, education support professionals (ESP) have negotiated record-breaking contracts that include pay raises from 21.7 percent for nutrition service workers of the Spokane Education Association (SEA) to hourly wage increases that top off at more than $24 in Touchet and $37 in Bridgeport — an 11 percent increase.
In the southern part of the state, secretaries in Woodland gained an average pay hike of 15 percent starting at $18.33 and topping off at $24.80. Office personnel located at the four schools which comprise Elma School District in Elma received an 18 percent increase.
It’s been an extraordinary bargaining year for ESP members of the Washington Education Association (WEA). While negotiators followed a familiar story line for the first half of the year — fighting in favor of pay raises and against reductions in work hours – the plot took a twist in June when the state Supreme Court ruled that the state would finally comply with the court’s 2012 McCleary Decision. Because of McCleary, state funding for K-12 basic education increased substantially.
“All of a sudden, there was a pot of money on the table,” says Mike McCloud, president of the Bainbridge Island Educational Support Professional Association (BIESPA). For example, the Bainbridge Island School District received an additional $9 million on top of its annual budget allowance.
“We bargained in good faith with school board representatives,” McCloud says. “They wanted to retain and attract skilled people and now they had the means.”
The 18 percent wage increase that BIESPA members received in September provides a starting salary of $18.88 per hour, maxing out at $51.91. Members of the Bridgeport Classified Public Employees Association (BCPEA) members received $17.94 to start while in Touchet, ESP members received an average 13.5 percent increase giving them a starting hourly salary of $14.57. The SEA nutrition service workers starting pay is set at $14.70 per hour, topping off at $30.45.
“In ordinary years, school districts don’t have this kind of money,” McCloud adds. “We were all bargaining for the common good on behalf of students and schools.”
Small Town, High Costs
“Our new wage schedule rightfully rewards those who have stuck with their positions through all the years of minimal increases and reductions in hours and hopefully will attract a new generation to the many roles classified staff fulfill,” says Marcia Millican, BIESPA vice president and a paraeducator at Wilkes Elementary School.
Millican was one of six BIESPA representatives on the bargaining team, which started meeting in February several months before the start of negotiations with the school district. The negotiating team reached a tentative agreement in late July. At a general membership meeting in August, members who were present voted almost unanimously in favor of the agreement.
“Our main objective was to honor the input our members gave us, which was overwhelmingly to obtain wage increases,” she says. “But our work is not done. We will continue to advocate for our members as the demands of our positions are ever-changing.”
Bainbridge Island is in Puget Sound, a short ferry ride from Seattle. It is a small, scenic town with good schools, quaint shops, and a high cost of living.
“Most of BIESPA’s 180 members live on or near the island,” says Jill Van Glubt, a UniServ Director who worked with the bargaining team. “They are subject to that high cost of living.”
Bainbridge teachers also received an 18 percent raise.
“We all (ESPs and teachers) received excellent support and advice from WEA,” says McCloud.
The McCleary Case
“We are proud that WEA members have been at the forefront of the fight for better school funding for decades, including the McCleary court case, which WEA has supported from the start,” says WEA President Kim Mead. “Our years of hard work and advocacy are paying off for the students of Washington.”
The organizing effort culminating in the McCleary Decision started as early as 2004 when WEA members agreed to increase their dues to pay for the expenses related to the beginnings of the lawsuit. The McCleary case was filed in 2007, and a superior court judge ruled in support in 2010. In its 2012 McCleary Decision, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to fully fund K-12 public schools as required by Article IX of the Washington Constitution:
“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”
In McCleary, the Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the state’s 1.1 million students. The court also retained jurisdiction in the case and ordered the state to report back on its progress in complying with the court’s order.
In 2014, the court found the Legislature in contempt for its failure to establish a plan for fully funding K-12 public education by 2018. The Supreme Court responded to this failure by fining the state $100,000 a day. Last June, state compliance with the court’s 2012 order brought closure to the case and a windfall of dollars to school district coffers.
Located in the Seattle-metropolitan area, members of the Mercer Island Classified Public Employees Association (MICPEA) benefitted from the influx of funding when they received an average increase, this school year, of 16 percent, starting at $23.18 per hour and topping off at $43.23. In another part of the state, Federal Way ESP (FWESP) members received an average increase of just under 17 percent, starting at $23.65 per hour and topping off at $30.34.
The Supreme Court order was not only thing Mercer Island and Federal Way members had in common with BIESPA members. They also had the support of legislators, parents, and school board members who recognized the need to pay ESPs, teachers and other educators a salary commensurate with their training, seniority, and education levels.
“This is a much-needed generational realignment of pay for educators—both teachers and ESP members,” says Mead.
While many WEA ESP locals successfully negotiated significant pay raises, ESP members in several other Washington districts are still at the bargaining table. In districts like North Thurston, Tumwater and Port Angeles, obstinate school boards and superintendents have so far refused to negotiate the pay raises their support employees need and deserve. With WEA’s full backing, ESP members in those districts continue to battle for pay raises.
“Every education support professional deserves fair pay,” Mead says. “WEA will continue to support our ESP members in their ongoing fight for competitive, professional salaries and the respect they deserve. We won’t back down.”