Tukwila School District teachers, students and even Tukwila community members, participated in a rally on Friday, Aug. 24, before a negotiations meeting, to support more than a 3.1 percent wage increase for teachers in the district.
Wages for the 2018-19 school year are still being discussed between the Tukwila School District and the Tukwila Education Association (TEA). Their last meeting was on that Friday, Aug. 24.
The Tukwila School District was allocated just under $5 million to go towards teachers salaries, Debbie Aldous, TEA Treasurer and Showalter Middle School teacher said. But, with a 3.1 percent increase, only about $600,000 of that $4.9 million will go towards the teacher’s salary increases.
According Aldous, the Tukwila School District might have a different idea as to how they want to use the rest of that money.
“Their (the school district’s) own budget shows they’ve been overspending for at least four years. I want to say six years ago we had a very healthy general fund with approximately 12 percent of the district’s money in that fund and at this point we’re down to approximately 2 percent,” Aldous said. “So they have overspent and reached into what you consider your savings account for a significant number of years.”
She continued with “The school board is really pushing to get that fund back up to 6 percent and the only way they’re going to get that kind of money is from these salary funds.”
Tracy Russell, Director District 1 of the Tukwila School Board, said due to “unexpected or insufficient spending practices,” this is true.
Russell said it is the board’s policy is to retain 6 percent of their annual operating budget in their fund balance (or savings account). So, the board has decided to bring the fund balance from 2 percent to 5.25 percent by the end of the school year, which is a cost of $900,000.
According to Russell, the district decided to give the teachers in a 3.1 percent raise because the average teacher salary in the Tukwila School District is above the state average.
“The average teacher salary in Tukwila is already approximately $3,500 above the state average, so our attorney advised that we were not permitted to offer a larger increase,” Russell said in an email.
Russell said another use for some of the money that was allocated for the salary budget will go towards educating the “highest needs students” in the district.
Highest needs students meaning, students in special education programs and “English language learners,” Russell said.
“Last year we were underfunded by $1.7 million for special education, and our projections for the 2018-19 school year conservatively predict that we will spend $1.6 million more than we receive from the state to provide the best education and services for these students. The district is legally and morally obligated to meet their needs. So the $1.6 million (or more) must come out of our total operating budget,” Russell said.
A press release from the district, which is dated as Aug. 23, 2018 — the day before their last negotiations meeting took place — stated that the board “voted to approve the 2018-19 budget during a special meeting held Thursday (Aug. 23) night. The(y) approved $47,504,635 for the general fund. This budget includes and an allocation of a 6.25 percent raise for teachers (a 4.25 percent cost of living increase and a 2.0 percent for individual step increases).”
Aldous said this was the first time she and the TEA had heard of the 6.25 percent wage increase — i.e from the press release and not during negotiations.
“It (the new percentage) came out via a press release from the district, which is not how bargaining happens. Bargaining happens at the table, not via press release,” Aldous said. “I would just say that the clearest communication that we’ve received about another percent was the press release.”
Russell said she is not aware of the press release stating this number.
Rhonda Lee, the Tukwila School District communications officer, said the number discussed during the Aug. 23 board meeting “is the budget from the school board itself.”
She said the 6.25 percent that was said in the press release has nothing to do with the current negotiations going on between the district and the TEA.
The 6.25 number is the allotted amount the district agreed on in terms of salary increases for the teachers in the district, according to Lee.
Another concern of Aldous and the TEA is that Tukwila Schools’ classified staff will not be getting any sort of raise.
“Our classified staff are nurses, our secretaries, or paraprofessionals — a lot of people that work directly with kids — and for them to get a zero percent raise is just not acceptable,” she said. “We were told at one point it was 3.1 percent for them as well, but that was brought back at the table on Friday (Aug. 24) and it was made very clear to us that there was zero dollars going towards them, even though the state has allocated money for them.”
According to Russell, the district currently subsidizes $1.5 million in staff salary, which is above what the state provides, and will continue to do so in the 2018-19 school year.
“We employ far more social workers, school nurses, librarians, assistant principals and more for our students above what the state funds,” Russell said.
Aldous said if neighboring districts are making more money than the Tukwila School District, then she said they may not be able to keep quality teachers and staff in Tukwila.
According to Aldous, the district seems to be standing by its decision as to what sort of a wage increase teachers will get, but she said they did see last Friday as a positive because it was the first time the district has moved away from 3.1 percent.
She said she would not disclose what the actual number was that was discussed because they want to stay positive in their messaging and do not want to despair the district by saying what the number actually was.
The next steps for TEA are to negotiate again with the district this coming Wednesday (Aug. 29).
If the district refuses to budge on their wage increase percentage, Aldous said the TEA and teachers will protest next week. School for the Tukwila School District is set to start next week on Sept. 5.
Tomorrow, Aldous said there will be a rally before the school board meeting. Community members, students and staff will be attending the meeting to speak to the school board during public comment.
“I think it’s really important for the taxpayers and voters in Tukwila to know that this is not the teacher’s clamoring for this, this was money that was allocated from the State Legislature based on the McCleary court case and our district is not utilizing the funds the way the state intended, and that is their taxpayer dollars,” Aldous said.