After a summer of unsuccessful, nonstop negotiation to raise salaries, thousands of school teachers across southwest Washington state are on strike to push for an increase in their yearly wages. The strike began on Aug. 29, affecting over 80,000 students across Washington who could not attend class as a result. Seven districts began participating in the strike, six of which were part of Clark County. The strike progressed throughout the week, and currently remains ongoing. Currently, districts such as Evergreen, Vancouver, Ridgefield, Hockinson, Washougal, Battle Ground and Cowlitz County are among the districts striking.
According to US News, other counties across Washington were able to negotiate better pay for the teachers, which included Kent and La Connor, eliminating the need for a strike. However, Seattle Public School and the Seattle Education Association (SEA), the union for public educators in Seattle, are pushing for higher wages in their county with no current agreement. If one is not reached by Sept. 5, teachers in that county will move to strike.
The local communities across the striking counties have voiced their support for the teachers strike, and have reportedly been preventing superintendents from pursuing legal action against the teachers.
A recent Supreme Court case titled Matthew and Stephanie McCleary v. State of Washington (also known as the “McCleary Decision”) determined that Washington State was failing to provide adequate funding to public schools across Washington state, prompting the 295 school districts across Washington to renegotiate teacher contracts. While some districts have been successful in reaching agreements with teacher unions, others are still in negotiations, such as the six in Clark County.
Local funding in Washington is expected to decrease after the McCleary Decision.
Districts in Oklahoma, Arizona and West Virginia have also been the site of strikes for increased salaries for teachers.
Teachers in the Evergreen district are proposing a starting salary of $50,687 for new teachers, while the more experienced teachers would receive $96,054, according to NPR. The union’s strike was approved with 95.9% vote in favor. Vancouver Public Schools and the Vancouver Education Association are proposing a starting salary of $47,663, and a salary up to $92,440 for more experienced teachers for the 2018-2019 school year. This salary range would then increase to $51,254-$99,406 for the following year.
For more information about teacher unions and the purposes they serve in relevance to West Chester, students can learn more about the West Chester University faculty union at apscuf.org.
Tracy Boyd, a paraprofessional in the Lancaster-Lebanon IU-13 school building, voiced her questions on the full picture of the teacher’s strike.
“In my district right now, our teachers have a starting salary of $40 – $41,000. I came from a district growing up in 1988 where my French teacher made $120,000 a year and drove a BMW to school every day. I would want to know what’s lacking in the [Washington school] district. Are programs lacking? What is the school’s angle on why salaries aren’t increased? On the flip side, if you don’t pay educators good salaries, they’ll leave and go somewhere else. What is the education requirement for these teachers? There’s a lot of angles that go into it. You look at the states that have high standards for education and the teachers are getting paid.”
“I think teachers need to be paid well,” Boyd continued.
“If you want high standards for teachers, you need to pay them a decent living wage. Especially with what teachers are being held accountable for these days.”
She also commented on her own wages working as a paraprofessional at a school with students with significant disabilities and educational needs.
“I’m not a teacher, but I couldn’t live on my salary as an instructional staff member. I teach the same way my teacher in the classroom teaches. I made twice as much as a caterer but I love my job and it’s where my heart is.”
The West Chester University faculty have their own union that allows them to negotiate pay within their own contracts under the Association of Pennsylvania State Colleges and University Faculties (APSCUF). For more information, students can visit apscuf.org. For updates on the teacher’s strike across Washington, students can visit npr.org or the Seattle Education Association website at seattlewea.org.
Sam Walsh is a third-year student majoring in special education and English with a minor in autism studies. ✉ SW850037@wcupa.edu.