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Getting Schooled 

Spokane teachers contemplate strike; plus, Mayor Condon unveils his budget

click to enlarge Spokane Mayor David Condon outlined his projected $810 million budget for the city this week.
  • Spokane Mayor David Condon outlined his projected $810 million budget for the city this week.

STRIKE ZONE

Washington state law, on its face, appears to say that TEACHER STRIKES are illegal. The state statute on public bargaining rights even contains a section specifically titled "right to strike not granted."

But members of the Spokane Teachers Association have voted to consider a strike anyway — if they can't come to an agreement with the district by Friday.

Spokane Public Schools pays $35,069 for a first-year teacher without a master's degree. But Mead teachers get paid about $2,000 more, Spokane Education Association President Jenny Rose says. That's because, while most of the money for teacher salaries comes from the state, districts can use levy funds to augment health benefits and offer extra "time, responsibility and incentive" pay.

But the union battle is not just about teachers. The SEA represents seven different bargaining groups, including maintenance workers, instructional assistants and other classified employees.

"Our nutrition services [workers] start at $9.47 an hour," says Rose. "We have people who have worked for 25 years for this district but are still making $14 an hour." She points to the big increase in state education funding and the district's sizable reserve, and believes the district has room to spend more. But district spokesman Kevin Morrison says costs like adding 60 new elementary school teachers in order to extend the school days have already eliminated slack from the budget.

The school board commissioned its own independent salary review study, Morrison adds, and agrees that some staffers, like entry-level instructional assistants, should be paid more. However, the study also showed that some more experienced staffers are more fairly compensated.

Morrison says he's optimistic that the district and the union will come to an agreement before Friday. "[A strike] hasn't happened in Spokane in over 30 years," Morrison says. (DANIEL WALTERS)

OVERSIGHT IN SIGHT

Independent police oversight in Spokane is nearing a long-awaited reboot. Jenny Rose, president of the Spokane Education Association, was unanimously approved by the city council Monday as the fifth and final member of the OFFICE OF POLICE OMBUDSMAN COMMISSION. That group of community volunteers is ultimately responsible for selecting a new ombudsman from the final pool of three candidates. (See page 19.) Rose grew up in Spokane, spent 15 years teaching at Garfield Elementary and has an extensive record of volunteer work in the community. She comes from a law enforcement family: her father and brother were officers in Spokane and Wenatchee, respectively.

As the city reassembles its police ombudsman office, local proponents of law enforcement oversight presented Spokane County Commissioners with 1,000 signatures Wednesday in support of a similar entity for the Sheriff's Office. Currently, the sheriff's citizen advisory board, made up of community members selected by Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, reviews officer-involved shootings, internal affairs investigations and other policies within the agency. (MITCH RYALS)

OPENING BID

Spokane Mayor David Condon has unveiled his opening bid in a months-long process to determine the city's spending priorities for the next year.

Speaking on Monday, Condon outlined his projected $810.8 MILLION OPERATING BUDGET, which assumes a 2.9 percent growth in revenue and includes no layoffs or reductions in services, maintains libraries, improves streets and trains firefighters and police, among other functions. Condon highlighted how the 195-page budget included an increase of $25 million to $46 million for streets because of a levy passed by voters, and $67 million would be directed toward improving water quality in the Spokane River.

"We are a people business so the vast majority of our expenses pertain to our people," said Condon, referring to the $255 million in wages and benefits included in his budget.

Condon said the upcoming budget would be "pivotal" because the city was also planning its six-year capital budget for buildings that needed to be built or maintained in coming years and he hoped to integrate both documents.

Calling the operating budget a "starting point," Condon noted that City Council would need to sign off on it before the end of the year and that citizens could provide feedback at MySpokaneBudget.org. (JAKE THOMAS)

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