The Northshore Education Association (NSEA) and Northshore Educational Support Professionals Association (NESPA) will decide Aug. 27 whether to start the new school year with bustling classrooms or strikes.
Members of the two employee unions crammed the Northshore School Board’s Aug. 12 meeting, waving neon signs and trumpeting their concerns over ongoing contract negotiations.
Officials from both groups, which represent teachers and educational support staff, respectively, say there has been progress with the talks.
Yet a number of sticking points remained at the Reporter deadline, including pay, class sizes, materials and professional-development training.
Union leaders suggested that the district should tap its larger-than-expected reserve funds to resolve the issues.
The Northshore School District has an end-fund balance of over $5 million, which is nearly $2 million more than it had anticipated.
But the district has been reluctant to dip into its beefed-up reserves.
“It gives us a cushion in case something happens,” said Northshore School District spokeswoman Susan Stoltzfus. “If you spend that extra money, you’re back down to the minimum, which we didn’t feel was a good place to be.
“Every year it starts raining.”
Storm clouds are already looming in the form of investment losses that King County school districts will absorb due to the nation’s sub-prime mortgage crisis.
In terms of compensation, the NSEA notes that its workers rank last among the 12 nearest school districts for TRI (time, responsibility and incentive) pay.
“The competitive compensation offered by other districts will continue to draw our best and brightest away,” said NSEA President Tim Brittell. “We don’t want to become a second-rate school district whose greatness has passed.”
The NSEA also criticized the Northshore School District for not filling 15 teaching positions that it budgeted for last year — something that would have helped reduce class sizes.
“Not spending those funds closest to the classroom where they are needed only compounds an already difficult problem,” Brittell said.
The NSEA has expressed additional concerns about a lack of materials and professional-development training that would help teachers implement new curriculum requirements, some of which are state-mandated.
Stoltzfus admits that this is a problem, but claims it’s one the legislature should take responsibility for.
The Northshore School District cites nearly $17 million worth of unfunded education mandates from the state and federal governments.
Those expenditures include $1.5 million for cost-of-living adjustments (all employees will receive a 4.4-percent pay increase this year), $6.7 million for special education and $3 million for transportation.
NESPA, for its part, accuses the district of failing to give paraeducators enough hours to make for a livable wage.
The Northshore School District has struggled during recent years to make ends meet in the face of declining enrollment, inflation and limited state funding.
The school board at its Aug. 12 meeting approved a 2008-2009 budget that includes $3.4 million in cuts from the previous school year.
One of the more contentious moves was eliminating three full-time-equivalent nurse position.
Stoltzfus estimates that six to eight schools will have to share medical personnel as a result of the cut.
“It’s frustrating to try and figure out who will pick up the slack when nurses aren’t there,” said NESPA Co-President Deb Murphy.
There is concern that untrained office personnel will be expected to care for children who need medical assistance.
Stoltzfus has said that students can waiver into schools that have full-time nurses whenever parents deem it necessary.