Renton Education Support Professionals (RESP) are one of two unions to not yet have a contract with the district, the other being Renton Professional-Technical Association. In June, after disagreements over the Renton School District budget message, representatives had said they’d hoped this year’s bargaining would be transparent and productive.
RESP members held up signs outside the Wednesday, Sept. 11 school board meeting before speaking during the meeting’s public comment period. Union President Valisia Simpson said members were at the meeting to continue their fight for a fair contract, which has been at the bargaining table since early summer.
“We need them to respect us and give us what we deserve,” she said.
Simpson said the district has been slowly increasing their offer but it’s not enough to result in a suitable wage for the support professionals. As of Sept. 13, there is a $200,000 gap between what RESP is asking and the district is offering.
In response to these concerns, a district spokesperson stated in an email, “we continue in meetings and negotiations with our Renton Education Support Professionals (RESP) union members, as well as our other bargaining partners, to come to a resolution that honors their important work with our students and families.”
Contracts for certified staff and district staff were finalized earlier this year. Simpson said her union members are always last, on the bottom of the totem pole.
“I cannot stand the disrespect they’ve been feeling every single year they’ve been bargaining. Every single year,” said Julianna Dauble, a district teacher and UniServ council boardmember, at the school board meeting. “I have watched the district settle with administrators, certified staff and watch our RESP members get the crumbs.”
One RESP member who sits at the bargaining table, said at the meeting when they ask for an equitable salary increase, the district says it will result in layoffs. They argued that this is inequitable when 1 percent for RESP is much less than 1 percent for administrators. Others discussed difficulty buying a home and putting food on the table for their children.
Support professionals came to public comment to discuss low pay, but some said there are other concerns they want addressed. Some paraprofessionals discussed being the only one watching over 100 kids at recess. A few discussed safety concerns and that kids have ran off school property due to the lack of staffing.
One paraprofessional said Meadowcrest Early Learning Center is majority RESP staff and asked the district school board directors to come “be a para for a day.”
District teacher Susan DuFresne concluded RESP contract comments by saying she couldn’t do her job without RESP members, including janitors. She finds RESP members support the most marginalized kids in the district, and happen to be the most marginalized staff. Most of the RESP educators are people of color. In addition to this, DeFresne also mentioned the other union without a contract, Renton Professional-Technical Association was only given one offer, and told that was it by the district. Professional technical staff is 41 percent people of color.
Before going into executive session to discuss contract negotiations, board of directors President Pam Teal thanked those who spoke, and said they would consider their testimony as the directors work with Superintendent Damien Pattenaude to address these issues.
After the Monday, Sept. 16 bargaining meeting, RESP negotiators reported to members that they hadn’t made a tentative agreement with the district.