PORT ANGELES — Hundreds of educators and their supporters surrounded the Port Angeles School District’s central services building during a rally, demanding the district provide raises with the boost in funding the district received from the state.
“We want the money that is here for our raises,” Port Angeles Education Association President Eric Pickens said over a loudspeaker Thursday afternoon.
“Anything less than that is absolutely unacceptable.”
The Port Angeles School District is netting about $4.3 million for next year after the state Legislature provided a boost in funding to school districts across the state in response to the 2012 McCleary decision.
The McCleary decision by the state Supreme Court found that the state had violated its constitution by underfunding K-12 schools.
The Legislature had been in contempt of court since 2014 for lack of progress on that ruling, and daily sanctions of $100,000 — allocated specifically for education spending — had been accruing since August 2015. The decision forced lawmakers to pour billions of dollars into the K-12 school system.
Video from the rally: pic.twitter.com/z9KIZBu0zH
— Jesse Major (@jessemajor) August 11, 2018
That resulted in the state providing $6.5 million to the Port Angeles School District and cutting the district’s levy by $2.2 million next year. Starting the following year the levy is cut in half to about $4.5 million and capped at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
Overall, the Port Angeles School District is receiving a $4.3 million boost in funding. That includes an increase in the certificated staff allocation of about $2.3 million and about a $1 million increase to the classified staff allotment — for a total of about $3.3 million.
Pickens said the teachers — certificated staff — want that $2.3 million to be passed through to them.
He said the first three times the union met with administrators they offered nothing, but then during the fourth negotiation the district offered a 3.1 percent raise — about $500,000 of the $2.3 million.
Superintendent Martin Brewer, who has been leading the district for just over a month, said administrators have met with educators once — when they were offered a 3.1 percent raise — since he started with the district.
Teachers are seeing their colleagues in other districts around the state receive raises of 20 percent or more in response to the McCleary funding.
State Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, said it would be inappropriate for a state legislator to get involved with the negotiations, but also said the state’s intent when it provided the funding was clear.
“I’m confused why there’s such a big difference in their positions,” he said. “There was language to discuss the teacher pay issue and that meant significantly more money from the state. I’m sure they’ll work it out and cool heads will prevail.”
As teachers rallied outside the Port Angeles School District’s central services building, school officials inside were presenting the proposed 2018-19 budget to the school board.
Brewer told the school board that after accounting for the loss in levy funding — which had previously been used to help fund salaries — the district is actually seeing about a $2 million increase in funding that is available for all salaries.
“Our goal of the district is to fairly compensate all employee groups in a sustainable fashion,” Brewer said Friday.
The School Board held an executive session Thursday night to consider a stance on bargaining. Brewer said he couldn’t disclose the school district’s position.
He said the school district would have to take a hard look at its programs and staffing if it passed through the $3.3 million allotment increase to certificated and classified staff.
“If we were to honor that request, we would dip well below the minimum fund balance of the district by policy,” Brewer said. “That’s just the mechanics of the dollars we have available at this time.”
The proposed budget — which doesn’t include raises — shows the district ending the school year with $1.2 million more than it started with.
The proposed budget projects the district ending the next school year with a fund balance of $4.8 million.
Since 2015 the school district has been going through its reserves quickly. The district ended the 2015-16 school year with a fund balance of $6.6 million. It is projecting to end this school year with a fund balance of $3.58 million.
In the last three years, the costs for certificated staff have increased $4.5 million, or 19.2 percent. Classified costs increased $2.8 million, or 34.4 percent. Personnel-related benefits have increased $4.1 million, or 34.6 percent.
Though the district is seeing a boost in funding next year, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction projects the district to then lose about $440,000 in funding by 2020.
Several people who attended the rally spoke during public comment at the School Board meeting, urging the board to pass along the $3.3 million increase to staff.
Port Angeles High School science teacher John Henry told the board the district is a high-performing district in Washington stte, largely because the district has been able to attract and maintain high quality educators.
“With McCleary, the state has promised to increase educator pay to make up for 30 years of stagnant wages,” he told the board. “What makes this promise different is [the state] actually funded it.”
Henry said that teachers are not asking the district to take away from other programs, but to pass along the money that the state provided when increasing the allotments.
“I understand that it’s really easy to get lost in the discussion about categorical funding, the mix of experienced staff, the regionalization … and how we’re staffed over the proto-typical models,” he said.
“But none of those discussions are relevant when we simply look at the dollar amount for restorative salary improvements: the $2.3 million.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].