PORT ANGELES — Members of the Port Angeles Paraeducator Association and its supporters filled the Port Angeles School District’s recent school board meeting beyond capacity as they demanded higher wages for some of the district’s lowest paid workers.
Clallam County District Court Judge Rick Porter, who said he was not speaking in his official capacity but in support of his wife who is a paraeducator in the behavioral disabilities program at Jefferson Elementary School, was one of several people who spoke in support of the paraeducators.
“My wife has come home having been punched, kicked, stabbed in the eye with a pencil — for which she had to get medical treatment — and knocked down to the point she had to again receive medical treatment because of some of the behavioral issues that go on,” Porter said. “Frankly, if [paraeducators] were in the military they would be entitled to hazard pay from what I’ve seen.”
Porter told the school board that when his son — with no work experience or college education — joined the U.S. Air Force directly after high school, his son earned more than his wife who has been working with the district for eight years.
“There’s something wrong with that,” he said. “Someone whose only job qualification is a really short haircut shouldn’t be making more than somebody that’s worked for you for eight years.”
Porter was one of several people who spoke. Paraeducators and parents each made their case for why paraeducators should earn more.
PASD staff have said during negotiations that the district needs to pass on the boost in funding it received as a result of the 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.
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.
The paraeducators have been asking for raises since before the McCleary decision.
For the 2016-17 school year, paraeducators worked with an expired contract as they negotiated with the school district. The current agreement covers 2016-18.
Paraeducators are among the lowest paid classified staff in the district. Base pay for a paraeducator is $15.68 per hour.
While Superintendent Martin Brewer did not address the negotiations with the paraeducators during the meeting, he told the school board Thursday that the district was disproportionately affected by the McCleary decision, leaving it with less money to work with than other districts, such as the Sequim School District.
The reason, he said, is that while the levies for both districts will be capped at $1.50 per $1,000 valuation, the Sequim School District has a significantly larger tax base. Both districts will receive the same amount of money from the state per student to support basic education, but the Sequim School District has a larger tax base on which to draw local tax dollars from.
Most of the paraeducators had left the meeting by the time Brewer discussed this.
Sequim has $4.3 billion worth of property to tax while the Port Angeles School District has $3 billion. Though the two school districts are now required to cap their levies at $1.50 per $1,000 valuation, the Sequim School District will see more local dollars.
“When two districts get the same state dollars and two districts have inequity as it relates to local dollars, hence, there’s our problem,” Brewer said.
Overall, Port Angeles is seeing a 7 percent boost in funding while Sequim is seeing 20 percent, he said.
“We cannot compete with that,” Brewer said.
Brewer, who said he is “passionate” about the issue, encourages people to contact lawmakers about the issue and urge them to find a solution that doesn’t rely on local taxpayers to foot the bill.
“We cannot allow that to happen again,” he said. “I’m encouraging each of us and everyone in the audience to connect with lawmakers to make sure our voice is heard. It’s a significant problem that needs to be corrected.”
School Board Member Sandy Long questioned why educators and paraeducators demanding raises aren’t being tasked to go to the Legislature.
Long said she wanted to “go on record” that she’s tired of being insulted for an issue she doesn’t have control over.
“If they truly understood what [Brewer] just said and what we’ve been saying all summer, they would be in mass in front of the legislative representatives in this district,” Long said.
“That’s who they need to be talking to. They are the ones who brought this ungodly discrepancy against us.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].