Snoqualmie Valley School District secretaries – all 43 of them – have been working without a contract for nearly two months – and it appears their wage expectations are quite different from what is being offered by the district. Their contract expired on August 31, 2018, but in the absence of a successor agreement, state law automatically extends it by one year.
The two sides have been in talks since last March, with some delays in the process. The district said it delayed negotiations in August while it hammered out a new contract with teachers and the SVASA team had some delays in September and October stemming from availability.
The secretaries say they’re frustrated and feel they play a crucial role in the education of Snoqualmie Valley students – from ensuring schools run smoothly to working as a team with teachers. The district, too, seems a bit frustrated, expending a lot of time on negotiations and feels it has offered a competitive compensation offer.
Making those frustrations known, secretaries and supportive members of the teacher’s union picketed around Snoqualmie City Hall (where the district holds school board meetings) Tuesday night as the board prepared for its October 23rd meeting. They then packed the council chambers for public comment period. Before entering chambers, union members were met by SPD Sgt. Keaton, who requested signs remain outside of council chambers. Keaton said he was called to city hall by Snoqualmie City Administrator Bob Larson – not the district – to make sure council chambers did not go too far over capacity.
It all boils down to wages.
Snoqualmie Valley Administrative Secretaries Association (SVASA) is calling for a big raise – up to what they say is a ‘living wage’ for the area. According to SVASA President Karen Seiser, this means enough to pay for basic necessities like rent, food, utilities, childcare, healthcare and transportation – or roughly $25/hour.
Seiser said, “The Washington Supreme Court was clear: the state has an obligation to fund competitive base salaries for all K-12 school employees, not just teachers. As a result of the court’s McCleary order, the Legislature approved $2 billion to increase salaries for both certificated and classified school employees for this school year.”
Currently the SVSD secretary pay scale ranges from $15.73 up to $23.01, depending on position and years on the job. The average Snoqualmie Valley secretary salary last year was about $21/hour, about 10-15% lower than the average in nearby Issaquah, Lake Washington, Riverview and Tahoma School Districts. Raises to the requested ‘living wage’ could mean over a 50% increase for positions on the lowest end of the pay scale.
SVSD Superintendent Rob Manahan said he feels the district is being competitive and fair. According to a recent announcement, the district’s last offer was a 14% raise over three years, with the compensation proposal “based on a comparative methodology used successfully with all other employee groups that have settled contracts in recent years.”
20 tentative agreements are in place, but compensation and contract duration are what’s holding up negotiations. Secretaries want a two-year contract with the ability to renegotiate after the two-year legislative budget cycle. They also want bigger raises, and sooner.
Seiser said, “We are moving closer, but we still have a long way to go…Our teachers received an average 16.7 percent raise this school year. The district is offering a lower increase for secretaries and doing it over the next three years. That is unacceptable.”
According to the district, they use compensation of similar positions within neighboring school districts to help quantify competitive wages. Those neighboring districts are: Lake Washington, Issaquah, Riverview and Tahoma.
SVSD stated it “remains committed to employment agreements that are competitive with other school districts in our area, while being fiscally responsible to our community.”
The district recently revealed that the new compensation package given to the teacher’s union came in $2 million higher than the approximate $7.5 million increase they had budgeted for teacher pay and benefits. That played a role in creating a budget deficit forecast for the next three years. Earlier this month the board agreed to start the process of cutting about $2 million from the 2018-19 budget to operate a balanced budget.
When asked if secretaries will consider striking, Karen Seiser said, “We are considering all our options in order to reach a settlement that is fair and competitive.”
Seiser said the October 23rd picket was a result of members’ frustration levels. She said without competitive compensation, secretaries will be forced to look for jobs in other districts or in the private sector.
Seiser said she doesn’t believe the district considers the work they do important enough to prioritize fair compensation for those who work in school offices. She said, “We deserve to be compensated fairly and competitively.”
The district, though, says it has done the comparison with neighboring districts and believes it has offered a competitive package.
Union members recently expressed disdain over an alleged district comment that secretaries are “a dime a dozen.” When asked if a district administrator made such a comment, both Seiser and SVSD Superintendent Manahan concurred that it was said (although Manahan said he was not 100% certain), but both agreed it was made by an outside negotiator, not a district administrator. Manahan said the comment was made during a past SVASA contract negotiation – not this one – and the district no longer uses that person for SVASA negotiations.
The two sides will meet again on November 7th. SVSD said it “remains optimistic that a fair solution can be reached soon, and hopes for a productive discussion at the next session.” Seiser said she is not hopeful progress will be made.