Federal Way teachers, school district reach tentative contract agreement

In wake of McCleary decision, conversation focuses on fair compensation for educators

The Federal Way Education Association and Federal Way Public Schools bargaining teams reached a tentative contract agreement for teachers at about 3:47 a.m. Thursday.

At press time, the agreement for the upcoming 2018-19 school year was slated for a vote by the FWEA at the general membership meeting on Aug. 30, with the first day of school looming Sept. 4.

With the state Legislature allocating $2 billion to Washington school districts as a result of the McCleary decision, the conversation is focusing on a fair and professional compensation increase for teachers. The question is how much of an increase will be proposed.

The Federal Way Public Schools encompasses 38 schools and employs 2,835 staff members, of which 1,527 are teachers.

Based on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s multi-year forecast tool, Federal Way school district expects to receive about $55 million in new funding from the state, although 80 percent of this new funding is designated for specific programs and cannot be used in the same way the local levy dollars have been used.

Bargaining team members from each side are working to make sure teachers throughout the school district receive the best contract possible, said Daniel Harada, a bargaining team member for the FWEA and teacher at Wildwood Elementary. Contract negotiations began in May and have been under way throughout the summer.

The school district’s bargaining team consists of human resource representatives, principals and other district staff. On the FWEA side, the bargaining team is made up of educators from various schools throughout the district as well as a secretary — all of which were appointed by Shannon McCann, president of the Federal Way Education Association.

“For us here in Federal Way, we want to make sure we remain competitive so we can attract and retain the very best for our students,” McCann said. “We’ve had a great deal of turnover in our district, many people are leaving to go to different districts, and what that does for kids is breaks down that stability of a school community. We’re really hoping to have professional compensation so our educators can afford to live and work and remain an educator.”

Several aspects are being negotiated in this process, McCann said.

“We use interest-based bargaining, which is a little bit different than other surrounding districts, which means that the conversations are more collaborative and in-depth,” she said. “So there’s a lot of work to do.”

Rallying for a living wage

At rallies held this week before the Federal Way School Board meeting Aug. 28, and last week before a bargaining session on Aug. 24, hundreds of teachers, parents, kids and community members gathered to show support for the Federal Way Education Association.

In a sea of red — a color worn in support of public education — stories of financial hardship and struggle were shared in conversation and on handmade signs. Spirits were high as multiple chants broke out from the crowd. People chorused “FWEA all the way,” “working moms” and “living wage.”

Brennan McGee is a teacher at Illahee Middle School and has been in the school district for two years. He moved here from Georgia, where he was earning $44,000 a year.

“When I moved [to Washington], I made $2,000 more a year,” he said. “It makes it so hard to stay in the district and be able to teach those kids that I want to teach, when I go home every day and work Uber Eats just to make ends meet.”

As one of the new generation of teachers, McGee still has more than $30,000 in student loan fees. Many of the teachers’ signs held at rallies echoed the same debt situation.

“That’s a common trend, that we’re all in student debt,” he said. “I love my students and I don’t want to leave, but having to work one or two extra jobs and delivering food to some of the parents of the kids that I teach… It’s hard. It’s embarrassing.”

Along with the salary discussion, educators have expressed their concerns over school safety, growing workload responsibilities, special education, the lack of librarians, and professional treatment as they delivered powerful testimonies Tuesday.

Some stories were met with roaring cheers of support from the crowd, some were met with compassionate remarks from the school board, and some brought crowd members to tears.

“I know that [the bargaining teams] are collaborative, and they’re thinking hard and strategizing about how we can get every single dollar that we can in the hands of our staff. We’re going to give everything we’ve got to be able to do that, in a way that is sustainable over the next few years,” FWPS Superintendent Tammy Campbell told the crowd on Tuesday night. “We’re in this with you.”

Once the bargaining settles, Campbell said, the next step is to talk at the legislative level about a $10 million regionalization gap in the Federal Way school district.

“I just say let the bargaining process play out, and I have every confidence that we’re going to do what’s right by our staff,” she said.

Last year, Federal Way Public Schools allocated a salary increase in anticipation of receiving increased state funding, according to Whitney Chiang, director of communications for the school district.

“Evidence of our commitment was the investment of $16 million, a year early, at the start of the 2017-18 school year, to significantly increase the salaries of teachers and other support staff, with record increase of 10.25 percent for teachers,” Chiang wrote in an email. “These raises were funded from the district’s savings account.”

As a result of the new state funding model, more money will be sent to FWPS from the state, but this funding comes with restrictions and local levy revenues will drop as a result of these new laws, according to the district.

“In 2019, FWPS will see a 37.4 percent drop in levy receipts authorized by the voters. That represents a $20 million reduction in income in 2019,” according to Chiang. “Historically, levy funds have been used for supplemental salaries and currently provides an additional 300 staff including teachers, security personnel and nurses. While the district will receive additional state funds, they are largely (80 percent) dedicated to specific programs, and cannot be used in the same way as local levy dollars have been used.”

“The net impact of this change in sequencing and fund-use restrictions is $10 million less in available funds for the 2019-20 school year,” Chiang wrote. “The district must weigh that future loss in its current negotiations.”