Melody Kieffer, an office manager at Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School, addresses the school board on Aug. 12. Madison Miller/staff photo

Melody Kieffer, an office manager at Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School, addresses the school board on Aug. 12. Madison Miller/staff photo

LWSD seeks mediation for LWESP negotiations

LWSD and LWESP have not reached a tentative agreement.

The Lake Washington School District (LWSD) and the Lake Washington Educational Support Professionals (LWESP) did not reach a tentative contract by the first day of school.

LWESP is at the end of a three-year contract with the district. Every three years, the group and the district bargain for a new contract regarding wages, hours and working conditions.

LWESP represents about 300 LWSD office staff members, which include office managers, clerical assistants, receptionists, health room secretaries and accounting technicians.

After the LWESP demonstration at the Aug. 12 school board meeting, LWESP members have continued ongoing negotiations for a new three-year contract with the district. LWESP also held a second demonstration at the Aug. 26 school board meeting.

“We’re the face of the school,” LWESP president Carolina Borrego said at the Aug. 12 school board meeting. Borrego has worked in the district for 20 years. She is currently the office manager at Louisa May Alcott Elementary School near Redmond.

LWSD and LWESP began bargaining for a new contract in May. Since the implementation of the McCleary court decision in 2018, teachers statewide received a salary increase of about 12 percent.

“We’ve been waiting for our turn,” Emerson K-12 office manager Healy Landis said at the Aug. 12 school board meeting. “The McCleary money is to pay for all school staff.”

In late July, LWESP members learned of the district’s latest contract proposal. It’s not only educational support professionals who might not see a salary increase due to the McCleary decision — the district proposed pay cuts for some educational support professional positions as well. It was not specified how much the pay cut could be nor which positions it could affect.

“We’re told that we’re valued and important all the time,” Landis said. “But to hear the words ‘paycut’ shows that we’re not really valued. We don’t feel valued or respected.”

As of Aug. 28, the district issued a message to LWSD families, saying the district is requesting mediation.

“LWSD has been actively engaged in negotiations with the Lake Washington Educational Support Professionals (LWESP) since early spring 2019,” the district stated in a release. “At this time, the district believes the negotiations team will benefit from a third-party mediator in the interest of reaching a settlement and has taken the proactive step of requesting mediation through the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). Mediation is a step in the bargaining process that supports the resolution of labor negotiations.”

Borrego said she was surprised when she learned the district filed for mediation, “rather than focusing on negotiating with us.”

According to the release, the decision to request mediation support from PERC is based on the district’s belief that the negotiation process could benefit from a third party by: “Ensuring that the parties remain focused on the positive resolution of open items; Assisting both parties in making progress on reaching agreement on salary proposals; and Maintaining a clear focus on the remaining open items in order to reach agreement.”

From May to August, the bargaining teams met 10 times, according to the district.

Throughout the course of this summer, the two parties have exchanged salary proposals as outlined below:

“On June 11, LWESP proposed a 32 percent salary increase for all members and additional increases for members with 16+ years with the largest salary increase reaching 59 percent.

The district responded to LWESP on July 30 with a proposal that provided pay increases of two percent to 19 percent for employees on a restructured salary schedule. The district applied similar methodology for determining the proposal as is used for other labor groups,” the district release stated. “On Aug. 26, LWESP submitted a salary proposal that again included increases ranging from 32 percent to 59 percent.”

Borrego said the district’s release presented inaccurate information, but she declined to specify what was inaccurate due to not wanting to negotiate in public.

“We are committed to do what’s necessary to get what we deserve,” she said. “Students deserve to attend safe, functioning schools.”

As of now, LWESP members are working without a contract. Borrego said she hopes the district and LWESP resolve and come to an agreement soon.

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