The Spokane Education Association's team sat at the bargaining table all weekend. They stayed there late Monday night, papers scattered around, coffee mugs close at hand, fighting for every penny in a deal to land educators in Spokane Public Schools a pay raise.
The deadline for a deal was fast approaching.
Finally, on Tuesday, there was a breakthrough, says SEA President Katy Henry.
"That day is when we saw a significant amount of money come across the table," Henry says.
The agreement, ratified by the SEA last night, gives educators in Spokane a 14.3 percent increase in pay, according to an analysis by the Washington Education Association, the state's teachers union. (Spokane Public Schools says it's a 13.32 percent overall increase for teaching and other certificated staff.)
Henry considers it a win for Spokane educators. And as hundreds of unions across the state negotiate for higher pay following an influx of money to districts from the state Legislature, Spokane becomes the largest district in the state to reach a deal. Seattle Public Schools is the only district bigger than Spokane, and the Seattle Education Association authorized a teacher strike unless a deal is reached by Sept. 5. Districts elsewhere have already canceled school because of strikes.
The deal means a first-year teacher in Spokane will earn $49,056 in total compensation. Teachers at the top of the salary schedule will earn $98,756. On average, teachers in Spokane will make $80,878. Classified staff will see an increase of between 7 percent and 21 percent.
The state pumped $2 billion to schools this year, ending the long-running McCleary lawsuit that mandated the state Legislature fully fund education. Yet while districts have a surplus of money this year they could use for teacher salaries, the state instituted a local levy cap starting next year that means, for many districts, they'll have less money available going forward than before.
The agreement modifies the final year of a three-year contract between Spokane Public Schools and SEA. In a statement last night, Spokane Public Schools says the dialogue between the two sides spanned a duration of two months.
"This agreement reflects SPS's value of attracting and retaining the best educators to foster an educational environment that produces excellence for every student," the district says.
The school board will vote to ratify the agreement at its Sept. 12 meeting.
The SEA went into negotiations seeking all of the $27.7 million in extra funds that the state allocated to the district this year. As is the case in the rest of the state, there was confusion on what that money was intended for, exactly. Unions argued all of that money was earmarked for salary increases, while districts argue they won't be able to sustain that kind of spending when they get less local funding after this year.
Before Tuesday, Henry says the district simply wasn't offering enough money. But with the SEA membership meeting looming on Tuesday night, pressure began mounting for a deal. Something had to be figured out, or school may have been canceled yesterday.
Henry says it helped that other local districts reached deals. It's important that districts pay teachers enough to be competitive with nearby schools. Central Valley School District, for instance, is still negotiating with the Central Valley Education Association, with school
"It definitely helps, because people pay attention to that," Henry says.
Henry says, by and large, educators in Spokane were satisfied with the final deal.
"I think we did the best that we could," Henry says. "We got what we were hoping for."