Spokane Education Association Response to Spokane Public Schools

Hi Spokane Public Schools,

While we appreciate your efforts to keep our community and parents informed, we want to make sure the whole picture is shared. Let’s begin with the first sentence. Last Friday afternoon, you say, approximately 500 of the 2700 members of the SEA voted for membership to strike to begin this Friday. Since none of you were there, you are neglecting to mention that initially, nearly 1,000 members voted just 11 votes short of going out Tuesday, Sept. 1 (our bylaws require an 80 percent yes vote). Voting to strike on Friday was SEA members’ second vote and a compromise to give the District more time to, how shall we say this nicely, come to their senses. Since our first vote was 78.85 percent yes, we assumed that people would have voted yes again. Many departed after the first vote because they were preparing for school.

While you point out that perhaps our parents and other community members have seen a variety of blogs, postings, etc., it is both rude and disrespectful to say, those posts do “not reflect the reality of what has been transpiring the past ten weeks with these negotiations.” We have different sides of the story. We have shared facts. We have not shared numbers because we do not believe in bargaining in public. We believe in bargaining at the negotiating table. We DO appreciate that you are coming around to mentioning that your offer includes the state-legislated Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) as just yesterday, you said it was the District offer. You have no choice on the COLA, but the District DOES have a choice on how you prioritize the other $23 million in new money plus at least an extra $14 of the $28 million you have in your reserves. While every District needs to put a lot of money toward “stuff” like new curricula (many of which, by the way, haven’t shown up in most classrooms for the first day of school tomorrow unless you bring it in overnight), we counted upon the District to understand that building world class schools means paying people fair and reasonable salaries. Our instructional assistants are paid 20.5 percent less than the average salary across the state. Spokane is the second largest school district in the state and while we do not have to pay what they pay in Seattle to live, many of your employees are not making a living wage. Nutrition workers — the people who feed our students start at $9.47 an hour. Many are being asked to cook from scratch (which we support) but if you have even one child and you’re making that wage, your own child qualifies for free and reduced lunch. We have many more examples, but we will leave that point for now.

While we have both made numerous proposals, we were honoring and will continue to honor the mediator’s request that we don’t share numbers as it hinders bargaining. What occurs at the bargaining table during mediation is supposed to be confidential. While we could go on and on, here is one more way you are sharing your side (notice we didn’t say it’s not reality as it is your reality — just not ours). You say, “The district is committed to spending the money that the state and local taxpayers have entrusted us in a manner that is directed towards our classrooms.” Everyone across the state agrees that a District needs a healthy “reserve” fund. Like all of us, it is important to keep some money saved up in case of unplanned expenses. For a district of our size, a healthy fund is 3-5 percent of the total budget. You have $28 million in reserves. That is 10 percent of the total budget or twice the amount you need for savings. If you are committed to spending the money the state and local taxpayers have entrusted, perhaps you will stop “banking” twice as much money and invest it in our schools. Our voters are so supportive about passing levies here, but we don’t think they want their tax dollars sitting in a bank account when you already have a very healthy cushion. We recommend that those who are here (the parents and community members who entrust us with your children every day) take time to ask someone who work in any capacity in our schools if they feel they are being offered a competitive wage. Working more than 20 years for $12 an hour doesn’t really make them feel valued. In any event, we appreciate your allowing us to post our reality just as we welcome you to post your reality. And, just as we welcome your comments, we hope you will allow ours. We hope the bargaining continues and that we can reach a FAIR and REASONABLE settlement before our Sept. 4 deadline.

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