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Teachers present case for higher pay

Retaining teachers could be a problem, otherwise, they say

 

Grand Coulee Dam School District directors face a library full of educators in red T-shirt solidarity Monday, as teachers presented their case for an increase in pay following statewide reallocations of funds intended to make up for years of not funding basic education. - Jacob Wagner photo

More than a dozen teachers attended Monday's Grand Coulee Dam School District board meeting, where Pamela Johnson and Carrie Derr spoke on behalf of their union to make a case for higher pay to keep quality teachers in the district.

Johnson and Derr, the president and vice president of the Grand Coulee Dam Education Association, took turns reciting lines from their prepared speech.

"In our last school year we lost one third of our teaching staff," the speech began. "Most of these teachers have left for districts that pay us significantly higher. Our teaching staff is being devastated by continual turnover and the need to train new staff to help meet the needs of our students. We can't tell our parents and our students that they're getting the best education possible if we can't attract and retain quality staff."

"The state Legislature allocated a significant amount of money to improve teacher pay," they continued, referencing recent legislation known as the McCleary Fix that pumps billions of dollars into Washington's educational system, including for teachers' salaries.

The 2012 McCleary decision by the state Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn't fully funding basic education and required the Legislature to do something about it.

Raising teachers' salaries "was mandated by the Supreme Court, budgeted by the Legislature, and signed into law by the governor," Derr continued.

They said the district has not budgeted this money to pay teachers, but allocated it for other expenses, despite operating on a budget $2 million larger than two years ago. They said surrounding districts are paying their staff more than the Grand Coulee Dam district.

"Both starting teachers and experienced teachers make thousands more than Raider teachers," Johnson said.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction lists the statewide average teacher salary for the 2017-18 school year at $55,700 per year. OSPI lists the average full-time teacher's base salary in the Grand Coulee Dam School District at $51,200. Nearby districts include Almira, which is listed at $59,700; Nespelem, listed at $50,100; Omak at $57,700; Okanogan, at $58,700; Brewster at $54,100; and Ephrata at $55,000.

"Teachers in our district are getting multiple phone calls from other districts, asking them to apply for positions," Derr continued.

Johnson and Derr noted that some local teacher positions "are being filled by people with emergency teaching certificates," but the board should approve "a competitive wage position in order to attract and retain quality teachers" with the money the Legislature intended for teachers' salaries.

"We believe that if this board does not act, we will continue to have high turnover in our district and lose our quality educators," Derr concluded.

The school board thanked the teachers for their presentation, but didn't comment on it.

Derr told The Star July 31 that teachers had originally asked for a raise of 25.6 percent, the amount she said the state had increased state allocations for teacher salaries in the district, but the district had offered an 11.6-percent raise.

She said just before a bargaining session that day that teachers would seek to split the difference at 18.6 percent.

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