A streak of red lined the hallways of the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Resource Center on Monday night (Aug. 12).
More than 50 teachers, office managers and office personnel gathered wearing red shirts, symbolizing unity and support for education.
The Lake Washington Educational Support Professionals (LWESP) are 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.
“We’re the face of the school,” LWESP president Carolina Borrego said at a school board meeting on Monday. Borrego has worked in the district for 20 years. She is currently the office manager at Louisa May Alcott Elementary.
The district and LWESP began bargaining for a new contract in May. Since the implementation of the McCleary 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. “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 ‘pay cut’ shows that we’re not really valued. We don’t feel valued or respected.”
LWESP members work varying numbers of days per year. For example, health room secretaries work 180 days. Central office staff work “year round,” typically 260 days. Others are in between that. Members have negotiated paid holidays. How many depends on the length of their work year. For example, if a person’s work year ends in June, they don’t have July 4 as a paid holiday.
“Year round” staff have negotiated paid vacation time. LWESP staff who work less than 260 days in a year cannot take paid vacation. Instead, some extra days of pay are added to their work year.
In the 2018 agreement between the district and the LWESP, an LWSD high school secretary with zero to five years in the position earned $22.50 an hour, amounting to $39,780 annually. An LWSD office manager with zero to five years in the position earned $23.52 an hour, amounting to about $36,385. A detailed report on 2018 LWSD educational support professionals salary can be found on the LWSD website (https://bit.ly/2KB3hVe).
Melody Kieffer, an office manager at Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School, said educational support professionals are the ones who make schools run smoothly — that schools couldn’t function without them. Every three years, she said the district and the LWESP have never reached a contract before the start of the next school year.
“We work five to six months ever three years without a contract,” she said. “I doubt any of them would think to work without a contract, but they expect us to.”
Peg Jatekar, a healthroom secretary at Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School, held a plush heart with a handwritten note attached at the school board meeting. The note read “Have a heart and do the right thing…We are the faces of the school. We are usually the first and last face parents and students see. Treat us as such. We matter!”
“This is a slap in the face,” Jatekar said. “We should be leading by example, not lagging behind.”
The district declined to comment on the bargaining process.
“To preserve the integrity of the negotiation process, Lake Washington School District does not comment on ongoing negotiations,” LWSD communications director Shannon Parthemer said.
Members of the LWESP will be at the Aug. 26 school board meeting.