Local teachers rally before meeting for salary increase

Educators claim district withholding funds, some staff work second jobs to make ends meet



Pullman teachers listen to a speaker during their rally calling for higher salaries in front of Pullman High School before a Pullman School District Board meeting Wednesday night. Bargaining negotiations came to a halt in late July.

MAGGIE QUINLAN, Evergreen reporter

Yesterday teachers and their supporters gathered outside the entrance of Pullman High School to rally in support of raising teacher salaries in the Pullman School District. The group listened to speeches and shouted chants before filing into the auditorium, where the school board held a meeting.

The teachers and advocates’ final chant before entering the building was a plea to the school board to keep the McCleary promise.

“What do we want,” Jill Brockmier, an elementary school teacher, asked the group.

“McCleary money,” they shouted in return.

The advocates referred to the McCleary decision made by the Washington Supreme Court in 2012 ordering Washington State to fully fund public schools. The 2018 legislature’s approval of another $1 billion intended for K-12 educator salaries, on top of the $1 billion for educator salaries approved last year, was made in compliance with the Supreme Court’s orders.

“All across the state, we’re seeing 14 to 21 percent pay increases,” Matthew Sutherland, a Democrat running for a state House position in the 9th district, said to the group. “There is no reason  y’all don’t deserve the same thing.”

Tiffany Moler, a teacher at Sunnyside Elementary and leader of the bargaining team working with the district, addressed the board during the meeting yesterday. She said the bargaining team has been willing to compromise, but the district has not.

“The bargaining team’s first offer to the district was one that we felt reflected a competitive salary schedule that would hire and retain the best teachers in the area,” she said.

Moler said as negotiations went on, the teacher’s bargaining team reduced their salary package offer by 13.7 percent, while the school district only increased their side of the proposal by 2.6 percent.

Before they entered the meeting, Vicky Jensen, eastern council president of the Washington Education Association, told demonstrators not to believe people in charge who say the money is not there.

“We don’t fabricate these numbers, they come from OSPI [Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction],” she said. “They tell us not just the percentage of raises that we deserve and that we’re going to demand, but they tell us the McCleary money that’s intended to go to teacher salaries.”

Moler said in her letter to the board that the district has spoken about decreased levy funding but has not addressed increases in state funding. She also said the funding allocated for teacher salaries in the Pullman School District has been estimated to grow by 19 percent, more than making up for any district losses.

With the belief that money for Pullman educators does exist, both teachers and parents spoke at the podium, begging the school board to use the funds for what they were intended. Several teachers appealed to board with descriptions of their personal sacrifices.

Rob McPherson, an art teacher at Pullman High School, said he has worked two jobs for years.

“Eight years ago I started working a second job cleaning up for a construction company,” he said. “Over the next six years I worked construction after school, during weekends and the summer months.”

Sandra Casanova, a Jefferson Elementary School teacher, told the board her family came to Pullman for SEL. She said because of her National Board Certification, she would make $30,000 more per year in Clarkston than she does in Pullman.

Casanova said with a gap like that, her loyalty to Pullman schools is not enough.

“Community love and loyalty doesn’t pay the bills,” Casanova said. “Community loyalty does not pay for our medical costs. I can’t instill self-respect in my students if I don’t have it for myself.”

Jill Brockmier said she is entering her 30th year as an elementary teacher in Pullman. She said when she first came to Pullman, she was eager to teach. She said she worked three jobs so that she could make it happen and that not much has changed, except her energy.

“I still live in my manufactured home that I barely can afford,” she told the Board. “I don’t have to work three jobs, I work two. I’m tired. My body can’t do what it could do when I was 24 years old.”

Brockmier said experienced teachers are leaving and she knows two who left this year. Every visiting speaker stressed their belief that without higher, more competitive salaries, the district cannot retain fantastic teachers.

Jason Bledsoe, a science teacher at Pullman High School, said between the University of Idaho and Washington State University, the district is always able to hire mid-level teachers, but those teachers leave as soon as they can.

“They’re coming here long enough to get that master’s degree that will allow them to get the better compensation packages they can get from other schools elsewhere around the state,” Bledsoe said. “Are we going to retain people that can serve our community the best, or are we going to act as the training depot to provide outstanding teachers to other districts?”

Bledsoe was deployed to Iraq in 2004, but continues his military service to this day as a second job.

As parents and teachers spoke to the board, many teared up. By the end of her four-minute statement, Brockmier was tearful. She threw her notes down on the podium.

“I love Pullman. We shouldn’t have to beg for our pay increases. We shouldn’t have to do this,” she said. “Please listen. Please find the money that was guaranteed for salaries. We earned it.”

Brockmier earned a roaring applause.