Members of the Peninsula School District classified staff, wearing blue shirts and carrying signs, voiced their concerns over pay at the district’s board meetings in November and December.
Dozens of PSD classified employees attended each meeting, with several taking the microphone during the time for public comment. “We would like to be shown respect for the work we do, and we would like that respect reflected in our checks,” said Bunky Janovich, president of the Public School Employees Clerical Bargaining Unit.
PSD officials are currently in talks with union representatives regarding potential raises for classified employees. While the details of these talks are not available to the public, many seem to be hoping for a $2 or $3 hourly wage increase, roughly in line with the recent increases for teachers.
Within a school district, the term “classified employees” refers to all workers who are not required to hold certification for their job. This group includes paraeducators, secretaries, bus drivers, maintenance, custodial and food service workers. These employees have a separate pay schedule and bargaining agreement from certificated employees—teachers and administrators who are required to have a certain level of education.
Many spoke of the difficulty behind classified staff duties and the inadequacy of the current salary schedule. Speakers emphasized the strong relationships classified staff can develop with children and the educational benefit they can offer. Teachers, family and community members also spoke in support of the classified staff. “My school, and all of our schools, simply could not function without all of these people. They are indispensable and their compensation should reflect this,” said Amie Smith, a veteran teacher at Gig Harbor High School.
Some speakers also compared PSD unfavorably to South Kitsap School District, where classified employees recently received pay increases. The statements reflected a common desire for a “living wage.” “I could give up what I’m doing here and go and make more at McDonald’s,” said Cathy Reaney, a paraeducator at Evergreen Elementary School.
This recent round of appeals for change was sparked by the McCleary Decision, a state Supreme Court ruling that public education was not being adequately funded by the Legislature. As funding has increased in the wake of the decision, certificated employees in Washington have seen raises across the board, including in the PSD where teachers received 10 to 14 percent raises. Classified employees did not receive similar pay increases.
All PSD employees are paid based on salary schedules. Base salaries are modified by “step increases,” where each “step” represents a year of service. For the 2018-19 school year, a new PSD transportation driver’s pay is set at $19.70 an hour. A step 10 driver would make $21.88. A top-step custodian (with 23 or more years of experience) would make $19.57.
Clerical and instructional support (paraeducators) wages are divided into grades based on position duties and experience, but a midgrade worker in either of these categories with five years of experience would make around $20 an hour. At top grade and top step, clerical workers and paraeducators top out at $26 and $28 an hour respectively. Not reflected in this pay information is that many of these positions are part-time and variable, some as few as 12 hours a week, nor does it include deductions for insurance or retirement for employees who are eligible for benefits.