Waiting on Olympia: Bargaining Certificated Salaries

We’re waiting.

Last August, we settled our comprehensive collective bargaining agreement (CBA). For better or worse (I say better), our CBA nearly doubled in scope: A whole new section was added about supporting new-to-career teachers; over a dozen pages detailing evaluation procedures was folded over from experimental year-to-year Memos of Understanding into the durable agreement; much needed language protecting the learning environments of special education students was added…and much more. Our contract, once rumored to be held up as one of the worst in the state, is now much stronger in its service to teaching and learning.

We knew, though, that we were bargaining at a pivotal moment in teacher compensation for our state. Our Superintendent, HR Director, and Finance Director (all of whom our Association has an unusually collaborative relationship with, even when we disagree) are likely more nervous than we are, as ultimately they are the individuals charged with managing the public’s monetary investment in our schools. Thus, the salaries we successfully bargained are a “one-year-deal” of sorts…with a salary re-opener mandated in the final agreement under the assumption that the legislature was going to make major changes.

As this recent article from the Seattle Times points out, and as I tried to articulate before, last year’s actions by the legislature created more problems than solutions. One paragraph from the Times article sums up the one of the key changes concisely:

The changes include scrapping the statewide salary schedule that virtually all school districts have used to set base pay for their teachers. Lawmakers also set a cap on teacher salaries and no longer will funnel more money into schools with more experienced and educated teachers. (Source; emphasis mine)

That part I bolded? That matters. Big time.

The guy who teaches next door to me is in the second year of his career as a teacher. Teaching is his second career, and he transitioned to my building after a successful career in the private sector. Recently, we were talking about a contract issue involving certain additional non-instructional activities that he and other teachers were required to invest time into, but for which they were not compensated. He made the comment that “it will sure be hard to keep people around if this is how it works!” Just the tip of the iceberg, I pointed out.

I’m interpolating here, but my hunch is that his private sector experience taught him something about what it takes to recruit and retain talented employees. Simply: Treat good people well and pay them for their talents, and the whole system benefits. Treat good people poorly and create excuses for not paying them for their experience and talent: Those good people leave your system…leaving behind, well, the less-than-good. As a parent, I don’t want my kids being taught by whomever’s left when all the good teachers move on find better work.

While there are many changes in policy and practice that can effectively recruit and retain the best possible talent, we have to acknowledge that if we want highly-skilled talent, we need to compensate in a way that values experience and training.

This is why my Association is waiting to head back to the bargaining table. I’m holding out hope that this legislative session will fix the hastily devised non-solutions that resulted from last year’s session. I’m hoping that their decisions signal a willingness to invest in doing what it takes to attract and retain the best, not just whoever we can get.

2 thoughts on “Waiting on Olympia: Bargaining Certificated Salaries

  1. Shari Conditt

    My concern is the “when.” This feels like the perfect storm. Bargaining units don’t want to bargain until there is more definitive answers on funding. Meanwhile this makes decision making challenging for staff as folks aren’t able to make decisions about their financial future when it’s unclear how much their salary will be. As an association president folks are asking me whether there will be financial incentive to seek a master’s degree (will the increased salary compensate for the expense) or what the salary will be for next year so their family can look at purchasing their first home. So many questions and I have no real, tangible answers….

  2. Jessie Towbin

    Thank you, Mark , for keeping this issue prominent. One of my greatest concerns is that experienced teachers will have to pit our salary interests against those of less experienced teachers and against other, non-salary interests. Divisiveness is the opposite of what this funding crisis calls for.


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