The Ellensburg School District and the Ellensburg Education Association met at Morgan Middle School Tuesday to discuss contracts while a group of demonstrators comprised of teachers and staff from the district stood outside asking for improved pay.

“What do we want? Better contracts! When do we want it? Now!” A crowd of approximately 60 red shirt-wearing EEA members chanted.

Every three years the district comes together to talk about teacher contracts and a variety of topics ranging from pay, how many days teachers work, to expectations of teachers. This year a hot-button topic was teacher salaries and headhunting of Ellensburg staff by other school districts.

One demonstator was Lori Leach, a math teacher at Morgan Middle School with 29 years experience. According to Leach, she has noticed the trends that attract people to want to call Ellensburg home is also working against the town.

Many people are attracted to Ellensburg because it is safe and a close-knit community to raise children, others because it offers the tranquil atmosphere some desire to retire in. Recently, there has been an increase in teacher salaries in neighboring school districts like the Tri-Cities or Selah, but Ellensburg has changed only a little.

According to Leach, she said teachers who have very young children and haven’t quite yet put their roots too deep in the community are more willing to make a move for better pay. She said people like her with no children at home are also keeping their eyes open.

“We have a lot of teachers whose kids are grown and so I don’t have anything keeping me here anymore,” Leach said.

These two factors make it easier for teachers to pick up and leave, no matter how fond they might be of a community.

Teachers also get teacher retirement pensions based on the number of years active multiplied by the average final salary and multiplied by a certain percentage. This has caused some teachers to want to seek out the highest pay to increase retirement pensions.

Jon McClintick, Vice President of EEA and English teacher at Ellensburg High School, said he has been seeing an increase of teachers leaving the district for higher-paying jobs elsewhere in Washington.

“Right now we’re about 6% behind every district in the area, except for Cle Elum,” McClintick said. “For me, if I moved to Othello I’d get $8,000 more a year and if we (McClintick’s family) had the money for a down payment on a new house, we’d probably be in a different community this year and next year, if it doesn’t change, we probably will be.”

The way McClintick sees the lack of pay is it creates a culture providing incentive for the teachers to leave the district and thus, hurting the students when it comes to their education.

EEA presented three pay contracts, 2%, 6%, and a 10% contract to the Ellensburg School District as part of the negations.

McClintick said the 6% contract is the one that would keep teachers on a more level playing field with the competing school districts and reduce the financial incentive for teachers to leave.

McClintick said teachers are concerned with basic living needs.

“Do I have enough to live in Ellensburg to make ends meet to pay my bills?” You know, housing prices here are ridiculous,” McClintick said.

Instead he sees his colleagues fleeing to administration positions for higher pay because in the last several years he has seen no upward mobility for teachers and pay.

“We want what’s best for the kids,” McClintick said. “And what makes the difference are teachers in a classroom who have experience and we want to get as many of those in Ellensburg as we can.”

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