The paraeducators of Tacoma Public Schools approved a new wage schedule that means a 19 percent pay bump that is retroactive to the start of the start of the school year. The raises come at a time when the district is preparing to make staff and program cuts to cover a growing deficit.
Paraeducators voted almost unanimously last Friday to accept the school district’s offer of an average wage hike of 19 percent by a vote of 319 to five. The contract runs through 2020.
The contract covers about 600 employees and also shifts all of the Family and Medical Leave Act onto the district, an $80 a year expense that had been shared the workers.
“Granted it is not a lot, but if prices keep going up that will be a good deal,” said President of Tacoma Federation of Para-Educators, AFT 461 Barb Randall-Saleh.
The union’s effort now shifts toward adding hours to the schedule since many paraeducators only officially work four to six hours a day. That leads to them routinely volunteering to work off the clock to support student learning on top of having one or two other jobs to make ends meet.
The union also pledges to support the district’s efforts to convince lawmakers that the state’s new formula for funding public schools is unfair to urban districts, particularly because it caps the amount school districts can collect in voter-approved levies. Tacoma voters, for example, approved $72million in program and technology levies but the state rules only allow the district to collect $40 million of that. Tacoma Public Schools is projected to get $389 less per student from the state under a formula that was supposed to increase public school funding.
“We are going to do our part to help the district,” said Randall-Saleh.
Tacoma teachers made a similar pledge after its seven-day strike that ended with a 14 percent wage hike for them. Local lawmakers have also voiced support for changes to the formula, but success in gaining any changes is far from certain once the legislative effort starts after the new year.
What is known is that the district’s $466 million budget for this school year grew with the wage increase. The district’s shortfall is $23.4 million, or about 5 percent.
“And that doesn’t take into account next school year’s deficit,” stated district spokesman Dan Voelpel said.
That’s another $38 million.
The school board and administration are now development scenarios to cover those deficits, including legislative fixes to the state’s funding formula to cuts in staff and programs.
“Programs and are staffing are currently being evaluated,” according to a district statement. “If we do not get a legislative fix before the end of November, we will face the cuts.”
The budget picture was already gloomy when a seven-day teachers strike ended in late September with the signing of a new contract that gave teachers a 14 percent increase, and a bump of 19 percent for office staff, which make them competitive for the region. Teachers in nearby districts have received similar wage hikes, courtesy of the state’s response to the Supreme Court ruling on the McCleary decision that the state was underfunding education, particularly wages for public educators.
District administrators will brief the school board on the budget and possible solutions to the shortfall at the regular study session at 6 p.m. on Oct. 18 at the Central Administration Building, 601 S. 8th St.
“We have to share the details with the board first before we share them with anyone else, so that study session next week will be the first public discussion we’re able to have with the board,” Voelpel stated. “At this point, I wouldn’t what to characterize the number before we can talk with the school board.”
Food servers will vote on their contract next week.