Certificated school staff have tentative agreement, rallies continue for classified staff

A joint statement released last Friday said that all three unions were initially offered 3.1 percent

On Wednesday, Aug. 22 the district announced on its website that the Renton Education Association and the district have reached a tentative contract agreement. The REA represents certificated staff, which includes employees with professional certificates such as teachers, nurses and guidance counselors, according to the announcement. Certificated staff, who have received their tentative agreement, are able to strike, but classified staff members are not.

Second Public Hearing

That same day, Aug. 22, was the second public hearing held by the Renton School Board regarding the 2018-19 budget. While certificated educators have been offered a tentative agreement, classified district staff which include positions like office staff and paraeducators, are still being offered 3.1 percent.

Classified staff attended a rally and spoke at the public hearing. Certificated staff and PTA members also attended and spoke in support of helping raise the 3.1 percent for classified staff.

Around 25 attendees spoke against the 3.1 percent wage increase, asking the Renton School Board and Superintendent Damien Pattenaude to “move the decimal.”

Many teachers who spoke emphasized they couldn’t do their jobs without the paraeducators and other classified staff. One teacher, Zer Vue, said she has written more than 10 letters of recommendation for paraeducators who were leaving to other districts for better pay in the last four years.

“It breaks my heart to lose them,” Vue said.

Many classified staff shared their pay stubs, saying that around $1,600 a month was hardly enough for rent or childcare in King County. Many of them work two or three jobs.

One classified staff member who grew up in Renton said she had to sell her home and move back into her parent’s house with her 5-year-old due to low pay.

“I am not asking for fortune and wealth,” said Christina Park, another classified employee and PTA president who said she didn’t expect to speak Wednesday, thinking a fair and equitable agreement would be reached before that meeting. “I am actually making less than I did as a 22-year-old college graduate. I chose this because of my love for education and children. What I’m asking for is to take care of my family, while I take care of everyone else’s.”

Another employee and parent of five, three of her children attend Renton School District, asked the board why she should have to chose between bills and offering her children extracurricular activities or supplies.

“As a child my mother told me, you need to be bilingual you will make more money. Now I wonder if that’s true. I wonder while I go to bed thinking, ‘How will I pay my water bill completely,’ by the third day of the month I’m completely broke,” she said. “I provide more than a band aid and an ice pack, I provide love.”

Kindergarten teacher Susan DuFresne said the McCleary work being done in Washington state is being watched across the nation. She read a letter from National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle saying that Washington educators were not alone.

DuFresne also said most employees of color at the district were classified employees. She questioned whether offering them only 3.1 percent could be considered part of the district’s goal of equity.

“You can support (state legislative) repairs by showing that Renton values what is the single most important aspect of education: the educators. Our education support professionals are not expenditures, they are the lifeblood of our schools,” Julianna Dauble, a district employee said. “Stress of poverty cannot just end when you come to work. Stress is contagious, and poverty is trauma.”

Tearful testimonies of hard work, and parents and teachers need for classified staff, were common at the hearing.

“My child is in the lobby, he has special needs, and his babysitter costs $20 an hour, which is more than I make. So it’s a big deal for me to be here tonight because he isn’t in bed,” a Renton district classified staff employee said, holding back tears. “Three-point-one percent on my salary works out to be about $49 a month before taxes. That may be one bag of groceries, one tank of gas if I’m lucky… I have to wonder if Renton School District wants to be known for employing the working poor.”

As she left the podium she received standing applause from attendees.

Leigh Greshock, office manager for Bryn Mawr Elementary School, also had the attendees on their feet applauding after she addressed the board about how hopeful she was when she heard about the money offered to classified staff by the state, and how she has “felt sick inside” ever since the district offered the 3.1 percent that was already in their contract.

“You won’t even give us money someone else wants to give us, that’s how little you think of us. The teachers will get their raise because they can strike, and classifieds can’t. I would never begrudge the teachers pay raise because they earned it and deserve it, and you know what? So do we.”

Statement regarding previous article

Superintendent Damien Pattenaude, and three union presidents Janie White, Jen Ben and Cami Kiel, released a joint statement saying last week’s article “Renton school staff, district discuss budget, salary hikes,” didn’t fully reflect the depth of negotiation conversations.

In that article, spokesperson Randy Matheson said the district did not offer unions 3.1 percent wage increases. A 3.1 percent increase has been criticized as too low, by groups like the Washington Education Association, with new state salary funding increases.

The joint statement said Matheson shared inaccurate information to the Renton Reporter, and that RESP and RPTA unions, as of Friday, Aug. 17, are being offered 3.1 percent as active negotiations continue, but the teachers’ union, REA, has progressed beyond the initial 3.1 percent offer. They also emphasized that each bargaining unit’s salary negotiations are done separately.

“The District apologizes for any inaccurate information shared on our part,” the statement read.