By Erin Hawkins
Olympic Peninsula News Group
SEQUIM — A stream of red flowed from outside the Sequim High School auditorium and into the Sequim School Board room as teachers and supporters wearing red clothing crammed together to stand in solidarity for fair teacher pay.
Sequim Education Association, the Sequim teachers union, remained in mediation with the Sequim School District as of Wednesday over teacher contracts and salaries. Supporters have been making appearances wearing red T-shirts and clothing at school board meetings throughout the past several weeks to put pressure on the district.
Cristi McCorkle, a representative of the Washington Education Association — the state teachers union — said she and two other WEA representatives were in Sequim this week to help with mediation and provided support for local teachers.
“Amazing staff, amazing teachers here,” McCorkle said. “[But] significantly underpaid.”
McCorkle said mediation between the teachers and district was scheduled to continue through the day.
While staffers made comments at the previous school board meeting Aug. 21, several individuals spoke on behalf of teachers during the public comment period at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“We got our priorities out of order,” said Stuart Marcy, a Spanish teacher at Sequim High School, as he suggested that the district held administrative priorities over teachers.
Another teacher, Marcia Garrett, who teaches science at Sequim Middle School, said: “I have value as a teacher in this community.”
Garrett said she is five to six years away from retirement and the highest pay she has received will be from her previous school district.
“We do appreciate you,” said board President Heather Short. “We have heard you.”
Board member Jim Stoffer added, “As we start a new school year, it’s important we evaluate our goals.”
The board recessed into executive session to discuss mediation for 45 minutes.
Following negotiations over the summer that failed to produce working contracts for Sequim teachers, local representatives asked for assistance in negotiations through the Public Employment Relations Commission — a state agency with jurisdiction over public sector labor relations and collective bargaining.
According to the school district, the commission assists parties in resolving contract negotiations without cost to either party.
The pay for teachers in the Sequim, Port Angeles and Port Townsend school districts for the 2017-18 school year is $36,521 for teachers in their first year and $68,836 by year 16, according to McCorkle.
The state allows additional compensation for additional time, responsibilities or incentives for teachers known as Time, Responsibility and Incentive (TRI) days.
According to numbers presented by McCorkle, Sequim School District teachers receive 15.7 TRI days, meaning that first-year teachers get $3,185 in additional pay and 16-year teachers gets $6,007 in additional pay.
The Port Angeles School District receives 31 TRI days, with $6,290 in additional pay for first-year teachers and $11,854 in additional pay for 16-year teachers.
In Port Townsend, public school teachers get 27.5 TRI days, which adds up to $5,579 more for a first-year teacher and $10,516 more for a 16-year teacher.
Sequim Middle School language arts teacher Jason Chadick said he took a pay cut to teach in Sequim.
“The first school district I worked at, I’ve seen what happens when a school district does not have enthusiastic teachers,” Chadick said. “It’s a sad, sad place, and this is not like that.”
Leif Hendricksen, a Sequim Middle School history teacher with three years’ experience in the district, is a Sequim High graduate. He said he came back to Sequim because he has family in the area.
“We want to stay here in Sequim,” Hendricksen said.
“We want to get paid for the work that we do,” he said. “We are asked to develop extra curriculum. We are asked to stay late and do extra things, and they’re not paying us for it, and we want to be paid for it.”
Hendricksen said the difference in pay between Sequim and surrounding districts on the Olympic Peninsula is significant, money that could be put back into the Sequim community if local teachers were paid better.
“It’s hard to feel valued and get excited about going to work when the town 10 miles that way and 10 miles this way is clearly valuing their teachers more when it comes to local dollars,” Chadick said, referring to surrounding school districts such as Port Angeles and Port Townsend.
“And that’s why we’re here: because we believe that Sequim can value their teachers, too.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.