The new Spokane Education Association president talks about taking over at an uncertain time for local teachers

click to enlarge DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo

Former Spokane Education Association President Katy Henry has moved on up to take a job with the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association. And that means somebody needs to take over her job leading the local union — especially since they're in the middle of negotiating a new contract with Spokane Public Schools.

That person is Jeremy Shay, formerly the SEA vice president.

Shay has taught at Ferris High School for 12 years, and for two years before that at North Central High School. He's taking over at an uncertain time for local teachers. It's a year after SEA negotiated massive pay raises that put Spokane Public Schools in a budgetary crisis this year. The Inlander caught up with Shay to get a feel for how he plans to lead the teachers union through all of it.

INLANDER: Right now, with contract negotiations ongoing with Spokane Public Schools, what are SEA's priorities?

SHAY: There are some new state laws around discipline, so we're trying to modify our contract language to deal with that. Compensation — modest increases as we move forward. Also student discipline. Those are probably the primary issues.

People have had concerns about whether the pay raises last year — combined with the lack of state funding — led to layoffs and budgetary issues in Spokane Public Schools this year. Looking back, is there anything you would do differently about last year's negotiations knowing what you know now?

No. That money that came [from the state] for salary increases is what we used. We knew exactly how much money was sent to Spokane for those increases. And it had been a long time coming. We've been sitting out there for years without cost-of-living increases that were suspended because of the budget crisis at the state level. Even the district has said the same thing, that the salary increases were long overdue.

With the budget issues, where do you see students being most affected?

I don't think you can make changes like this and not have it affect students. I think when you do a reduction, let's say custodial staff, you think, "Well, that's not going to have an impact in the classroom." But it does, because your certificated staff have to help. And your kids are coming back to rooms that aren't as clean as they were before. And despite what people might think, kids interact with custodians, they interact with nutrition services. So I think you can do the best you can, but any adult you take out of that environment is going to impact kids.

What will you be asking for from the state next year?

I haven't gotten a chance to look at the overall picture of that. But I know that complete special education funding continues to be a priority. Spokane Public Schools is ... underfunded in terms of the number of special ed students that we serve and the amount of funding we get for them. ♦

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.