Opinion

School district employee contract raises questions

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It's the $64,000 question that the school district's classified employees are asking. Why can't we get the 3 percent raise that seems fair?

Unfortunately, labor disputes rarely help either side and in this case, friends are pitted against friends in what could be indicative of the negotiation between teachers and the district set to take place after the first of the year.

The facts are that the state is willing to kick in 1 percent to classified employees who have not seen a raise in two years. In the business world, reality has held raise levels down for the past few years as many businesses have attempted to climb out of the post 9/11 economy.

Classified employees are asking for 3 percent the first year, meaning the district would have to kick in the other 2 percent in the first year. Classified employees are then willing to take the state mandated raises for the subsequent two years. The cost to the district is $64,000 over the three year period. That amount is not unreasonable and should be found in the budget without impacting school programs.

Another fact is that we live in East King County with some of the fastest growing housing prices in the state. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to live and work in the area we love and school district employees are feeling the same pinch that many of us feel.

Another little known fact is that most classified and secretarial positions are not paid the normal 2080 hours a year the average worker is compensated for. There summer breaks are not considered compensated times but amazingly, many people I have talked to made the assumption they did get paid for the summer.

So why is this a stumbling block for the school board? I'm sure it boils down to the fact that three contracts are up for negotiations and the biggest of those is the teachers. Without taking anything away from the skill of classified employees and secretaries our district is going to need to play catch-up this year comparative to surrounding districts for teachers pay. When we look at the critical skill set of any business, the set with the most impact to the bottom line success will typically have the most leverage when discussing pay increases.

With that said, we cannot short change classified employees and secretaries but rather we need to think of a solution that carries the message they are valued but still allows the district to focus on pay increases for its teachers. There is also a PR angle that the board needs to think about. If we go out on strike next year because the teachers didn't get what they were wanting to make them comparable to neighboring districts. And the reason we couldn't give them that comparable wage was we had given a portion of it to the classified and secretarial employees, then the voting public will be upset.

Its true that many classified and secretarial employees could make more in the private sector. For some, the reality that a school district job doesn't pay enough to make ends meet may force them down the path of returning to the private sector.

But the district needs to recognize and value all district employees and at the same time, be prudent in making sure there is money there to satisfy the teacher contract when it finally comes down the pike next year. It's a tough balance in a small community where both sides of the table have friendships crossing the table.

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