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Local teachers continue fight for higher pay

SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane teachers are not giving up the fight for higher pay as summer winds down. The first day of school is just three days away -- at least on paper. First, teachers and the district have to agree on a contract re-opener, focused on salary schedules.

Spokane teachers have spent the summer picketing and rallying for salary increases as you've been getting your child ready for the first day of school. The Spokane Education Association's bargaining team continued its talks with Spokane Public Schools Monday.

Spokane teachers are keeping a close eye on other districts across the region, as some in the Inland Northwest have seen double digit percent pay raises.

Medical Lake's teacher union will vote on a 12 percent pay raise this week. The Union and district in Moses Lake have agreed to an 11.9 percent raises. Omak teachers will see 13.5 percent increases in pay, while educators in Pullman can expect 15.5 percent raises. Central Valley and Spokane teachers are still negotiating.

Spokane Public Schools' latest offer of 3.1 percent raises is not sitting well with teachers like Elizabeth Coyote, who teaches kindergarten at Wilson Elementary.

"I just thought it was a slam dunk -- that we were all on the same team, we knew the money was coming, we knew it would be sustainable," Coyote said.

Spokane Public Schools spokesperson Brian Coddington said when it comes to salary increases, it's all relative.

"Everyone's treated a little bit differently," Coddington said. "There's a bunch of different factors ranging from how close the district already is to the average statewide compensation for teachers to regionalization factors, so cost of living."

Coddington said Spokane teachers earn above-average salaries compared to other districts across the state. Data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction shows the average salary for a teacher in Spokane is $72,768, while the statewide average is $71,711.

Spokane Public Schools told KXLY this year's one-time overlap of state and local money has proven to complicate things, as the district stands to lose about $45 million in levy funding next year.

"We have no intention of, you know, asking for compensation that would somehow bankrupt our district," Coyote said. "It's sustainable and it's exactly what the legislature set aside that money for."

Wally Watson, president of the Central Valley Education Association, told KXLY4 the union is still negotiating with the district. OSPI data shows the average salary for a teacher in the Central Valley School District is $67,443, which falls $4,268 short of the statewide average.

SPS and the SEA are holding their breath.

"The expectation is that teachers will be there on the first day of school and school will start as planned," Coddington said.

The union's 3,400 members will meet Tuesday to possibly vote on a tentative agreement between the bargaining team and the district.

"Nobody wants a strike or a delay. However, you know, I know that our bargaining team -- which I have tremendous admiration for -- they will not put a tentative agreement in front of us if they don't feel it warrants our attention," Coyote said.

Coyote said the union will not go down without a fight.

"When I look at what has preceded this moment, it hasn't been promising," Coyote said. "So, that kind of leads me to think that it might not come through until we push back." 

If the Spokane Education Association and the district cannot come to an agreement, the union may vote to extend bargaining or they could vote to authorize a strike vote.

The first day of school for Spokane Public Schools is scheduled for Thursday. 


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