The Pullman School District and the local teachers union say they are close to reaching an agreement in ongoing contract negotiations for the coming school year. Officials with the union, known as the Pullman Education Association, said both groups hope to bring talks to a close before students resume classes at the end of the month.
“We’ve been able to reach an agreement on most of the issues that were brought to the table,” PEA President Tiffany Moler said. “The only one that we have left hanging is our salary, and we are pretty close.”
In a negotiation session Tuesday, the district offered teachers a 13 percent raise, which the PEA countered with a request closer to 15 percent. The district’s offer would bring the base starting pay for a new teacher to a little more than $43,000, while those at the highest end of the pay scale – teachers with a doctorate who have been with the district for at least 16 years – could make as much as $81,236. In addition to this base amount, teachers could earn anywhere from $1,300 to $2,500 for attending a week of “professional learning” days. The PEA’s counter-proposal would raise starting teachers’ salaries to a little more than $44,000, with those on the highest end capable of earning around $83,300. Moler said the demand for higher salary is an effort to give teaching positions in the PSD an edge in drawing educators to the district.
“We would just hope for us to have a competitive salary that would help to attract and keep our great teachers that we have – we’re going to have to figure out what that is,” Moler said.
Looming over negotiations is a nearly $3 million shortfall the district expects to accumulate over the coming four years due to new limits on levies handed down by the state.
“With losing $2.9 million over four years in levy money, we’re kind of strapped right now – we can’t do what we want to do,” PSD Finance Director Diane Hodge said. “That’s going to impede what we want to offer and also currently offer.”
As part of a fix for the McCleary decision mandating that the Legislature fully fund the state’s public schools, Hodge said Washington lawmakers agreed to allocate more money to education but also established an upper limit for local levies of $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value. The new cap retroactively limits a levy worth $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value that was recently approved by Pullman voters, producing the shortfall.
PSD Superintendent Bob Maxwell said while the district cannot bank on changes at the legislative level, he hopes lawmakers can be pressed to remove the cap. At the very least, he said, he would like for the state provide cost of living funds known as “regionalisation.” Maxwell said regionalisation in other districts can amount to a 6 to 24 percent boost to salaries, but even with housing prices climbing, Pullman was deemed too affordable to qualify for the funds.
“If they can’t fix the funding issue then we need to unite together to at least get the regionalisation and get (teachers) some more pay,” Maxwell said.