SEQUIM — Staff at the Sequim School District continue to rally for equitable wages as contract negotiations persist for paraeducators, bus drivers, secretaries, maintenance staff and some administrative employees.
Several classified staffers voiced their concerns about the status of contract negotiations and urged they get a living wage at the Sequim School Board meeting Monday.
“We don’t know where we’re at at this stage,” said Cal Scott, a bus driver for the district.
“We’re perturbed and upset that we have had no continuing communication to us — the drivers — in the department as to what’s taking place or what’s happening.”
Scott said bus drivers hope a new contract will address child safety on school buses along with wage increases and benefits.
“We are concerned that we as bus drivers do not have the ability to maintain, follow up and handle discipline on the buses in such a manner that it becomes safe for us, the children involved, and the rest of the citizens in the county,” Scott said.
He said Sequim’s school bus drivers are not receiving a living wage commensurate with other school district drivers in the region.
“We have found that we are somewhere between 5 [percent] and 15 percent below what our fellow bus drivers are paid including the retirement benefit that’s paid in,” Scott said.
“We are concerned that this negotiation takes into account the needs of the bus drivers.”
In an interview prior to Monday night’s board meeting, Scott said the Teamsters union (representing the bus drivers) was offered a 3.1 percent cost of living increase from the district.
Scott said there are 29 drivers in the district and their contracts expired Aug. 31. Their union has remained in negotiations since May, he said.
The school district’s paraeducators also remain in contract negotiations, and about 10 to 15 rallied along North Sequim Avenue and West Fir Street on Monday before the board meeting.
Melissa Carmichael, a parent, spoke on behalf of paraeducators at the board meeting about their importance in the school district after her daughter, a second-grader at Helen Haller Elementary School, broke her leg and was confined to a wheelchair.
She said a paraeducator at the elementary school was specifically trained to help her daughter while she attended school in a wheelchair.
“If that [arrangement] wouldn’t have been in place for us, we potentially could have been homeless,” she said.
“It takes two incomes a day to make it and in my circumstances it could have been a really traumatic event for us on top of our child having that traumatic event.”
Randy Hill, Sequim School District human resources director, said in an interview Tuesday that the Teamsters and the maintenance and custodial unions were offered tentative contract agreements in the past few weeks.
He said he could not comment on what tentative agreements were made because union members still need to ratify the contracts. The Teamsters met with him last week when the tentative agreement was finalized, Hill said.
“The Teamsters contract has been accepted and recommended by Teamsters and the district,” Hill said. “So we have a tentative agreement but I can’t give details because they [union members] need to vote.”
As far as a lack of communication between the Teamsters and the district, Hill said, “That’s an internal thing and everybody needs to talk to their people.”
“We [the district] value what they do and hopefully this contract will take care of them,” he said.
Sequim paraeducators, secretaries and exempt administrative contracts remain in open negotiations, Hill said.
Hill said the district will meet with the secretaries this coming Monday and with paraeducators again Oct. 10.
“The people we’re working with have the same goals as we do, which is to get it done,” Hill said. “We reached an agreement with custodial and transportation and the teachers as well, so we’re going to get it done; it’s just a matter of how long we take.”
The next School Board meeting will be at 6 p.m. Oct. 15, at the district board room, 503 N. Sequim Ave.
The district also plans a School Safety Forum from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Sequim High School Auditorium, 503. N. Sequim Ave.
Erin Hawkins is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach her at [email protected].