Many school districts still in negotiations over teacher pay, with only days before classes start

SPANAWAY, Wash. -- Dozens of Bethel School District teachers filed into Liberty Middle School on Thursday to learn the latest offer on pay increases. They came out an hour later saying they decided to continue negotiations until Wednesday, Sept 5.

If the two sides are far apart by then, teachers will meet to vote whether to strike.

Bethel Education Association says they are trying not to turn rallies into a picket lines.

“We are working on it and we are confident something will get done real soon,” Bryan Grassi said.

Negotiations over salaries are still going on behind closed doors for more than 150 of 295 school districts across the state as of Thursday afternoon.

“We felt that we are at an impasse, we weren’t making any progress,” Tacoma Public Schools spokesperson Dan Voelpel said.

So Tacoma Public Schools called in a state mediator.

“We are facing a $25 million deficit in the 2019 to 2020 school year,” Voelpel said.

With the McCleary decision pumping $9.2 billion into public education over the next 6 years, many may wonder how Tacoma Public Schools are not seeing the windfall of money other districts are receiving.

“Created some winning districts and losing districts; Tacoma is, unfortunately, one of the losing districts,” Voelpel said.

Voelpel says state funding may increase but the Legislature’s formula also decreases local levy dollars.

For example, in 2019 funding goes up by $50 million but local levy dollars are decreased by $46 million.

“It’s essentially a wash for Tacoma Public Schools,” Voelpel said.

Tacoma is not alone earlier. This year Bethel Schools Superintendent Tom Seigel told Q13 News they were getting $5.2 million less a year for teacher pay.

“They missed us and there are some other school districts that need to be looked at as well,” Seigel said.

“We require a legislative fix, I think it’s evident,” Voelpel said.

But Tacoma teachers say if the Yakima School District, one of the losing districts based on the new state formula, can give their teachers a 16% pay increase, Tacoma should find a way.

“Tacoma prides itself in being an innovative district. We’ve got people with great ideas and great minds here. We’ve got people who can figure this solution out,” Tacoma Education Association President Angel Morton said.

But the two sides are far apart with just seven days before the first day of school.

Tacoma Public Schools says the best they can offer is a 3.1% pay raise for teachers.

“They will have a very long strike on their hands. My members are not going to settle for that,” Morton said.

Tacoma Public Schools and the teachers' union continued to negotiate on Thursday. Teachers in Tacoma say they will hold a meeting on September 4 to vote whether to strike.