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About 80 teachers in reds shirts demonstrated for higher paying salaries outside city hall during the Ellensburg School Board meeting on Wednesday.

Teachers wearing red shirts gathered inside city hall to listen to what the Ellensburg School Board had to say regarding the district’s budget. According to the school district, the McClearly decision to fully fund K-12 schools has left little wiggle room to free up money to be used to increase teacher salaries.

The new pay model and the cap in the enrichment levy are some of the many areas the district is pointing to as places the district in the past could rely on for funding, but now are challenging areas.

McClearly drastically changed how public schools are funded. Before the McCleary decision the ESD would collect 3.43 per 1,000 assessed value, after McCleary the district will collect 1.50 per assessed value.

Tosha Woods, an Ellensburg School Board member addressed the crowd acknowledging passions were high within the community. Woods described the McCleary decision as many puzzle pieces the district was given and is currently trying to find solutions for and needs the support of the community to try and put those pieces back together.

“We have two choices to make as a community,” Woods said. “One, we can choose to let the emotions get to us and we can use poor words and poor actions and we can burn bridge — and then after we come to agreement and we will have to fix them — or we can make a decision right now as a community that we are going to enter these hard conversations.”

Teachers, parents and supporters of educators took turns urging the district and the board to increase teacher salaries.

Megan McConnell, a parent and Central Washington University professor, pointed out one of the reasons she chose a school district like Ellensburg over a larger community was because of the intimacy and relationships her children could make with their teachers. McConnell said it matters to her daughter to see her teachers at her sporting events or bumping into them at the Fred Meyer.

“We think we’re getting a better education here in Ellensburg,” McConnell said. “It really matters to her… that she knows they care about her as a whole person, she will tell you that they are invested in her and that brings about in her sense of diligence of responsibility, and have confidence that she can do anything.”

Donna Grassel, the teachers union president, passionately argued to the board to imagine what the district will look like if experienced teachers leave for higher paying districts.

“What will happen to this district when these experienced teachers leave and we’re left with just young teachers and a revolving door,” Grassel said.

Grassel said it is the experienced teachers who not only mentor and guide young teachers, but provide the structure to attract the best in their field to want to work and stay in certain school districts.

Contract negotiations have been ongoing since June and in a statement released by the Ellensburg School District on Aug. 23, the Ellensburg Education Association (EEA) and the school district are now bringing in a third party to help mediate a deal. The hope is a mediator between the two parties can come to some type of agreement in regard to teachers salaries, benefits and other teacher-related concerns.

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