Schools in North Mason and South Kitsap opened on schedule today. Bainbridge, Bremerton, Central Kitsap and North Kitsap schools opened Sept. 2 as planned. That’s not news … unless you’re North Mason celebrating the opening of a new high school.
Earlier this spring, there was talk among local union leaders of a possible long-term strike this fall to follow up one day-walkouts. Four of the six teachers’ unions (South Kitsap, Central Kitsap, North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island) were protesting lack of progress in the state Legislature over funding of K-12 education. So if you’re a Kitsap or North Mason parent reading today about the the teachers’ strike in Seattle, you may be wondering if teachers on the Kitsap Peninsula will follow suit.
True, Kitsap and North Mason teachers, along with others in the state, have complained about stagnant wages, saying a teachers’ cost-of-living increase and temporary pay boost allocated by the state, is inadequate compensation to attract and retain high quality teachers. They say that the $744 million in new spending for schools approved in Olympia over the 2015-2017 biennium doesn’t meet requirements of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
Seattle teachers have the same complaints, but they are also in the midst of contract negotiations. According to the article by the Associated Press, “The district has offered a pay increase of nearly 9 percent over three years, and the union countered with a 10.5 percent increase over two years. Phyllis Campano, the union’s vice president, said the district came back with a proposal that the union ‘couldn’t take seriously.'”
The strike, which began Wednesday, affects 53,000 students.
Teachers in Pasco, with 17,000 students, also are on strike.
But these strikes are mainly about local issues and not tied to the larger debate about education funding, according to Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, quoted in the AP article.
Most educators and legislators agree that the current system, which relies heavily on local levy funds, results in inequity in teachers’ pay and student opportunities from district to district. An overhaul is needed, most agree. In the meantime, districts negotiate with unions to supplement the state’s pay schedule.
North Kitsap School District recently completed negotiations with its teachers, and the school board on Wednesday (today) will consider the new contract.
With local schools starting on time, it would seem like talk of a strike has died down. But at least in South Kitsap, union members did consider a longer term strike, electing to hold off pending the Legislature’s response to recent court sanctions.
The state Supreme Court held the Legislature in contempt over McCleary and, in the absence of a special session, is fining it $100,000 a day. Nineteen senators, including Republican Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who caucuses with the Republicans, issued a follow up statement saying the court had overstepped its authority.
On Aug. 31, the South Kitsap Education Association opened the floor to discussion of a long-term strike, according to union president John Richardson. Members did not vote on a strike but approved a proposal to leave their options open. They authorized their representative council (leadership) to bring a strike motion before members in January, or not depending on progress the Legislature makes as it goes back into session.
“They’d like to do more action, but at this point, they’re not sure what will move the Legislature,” Richardson said. “Also, they want to see what happens with the contempt order.”
I have not contacted other local union leaders, since schools were opening as scheduled. I will be following this and other developments related to McCleary as the saga continues.
Chris Henry, education reporter for the Kitsap Sun