Sultan and Monroe bargaining teams were able to reach tentative agreements for teacher contracts before the start of the school year and avert strikes.

Classes in the school districts started on time, avoiding strikes authorized by each education association if contract negotiations fizzled.

Sultan Education Association president Andrea Fuller said this year’s negotiations were unlike any she had experienced in her many years on the bargaining team.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime shot,” she said. 

School districts around Washington had to figure out how to restructure their salary schedules to include new state funding, Fuller said. The McCleary decision included about $2 billion to raise educators’ wages, according to the Washington Education Association.

Legislators settled on the solution this spring, after years of disagreement. The 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling was that education was not being amply funded in Washington, as is the state’s paramount duty.

Fuller and Monroe Education Association president Shaerie Bruton said they saw the school district teams come in during the first conversations in this round of bargaining, which started months ago, believing there was a cap on how much they could raise salaries. So, the groups had to work through that misunderstanding of the new law, Fuller said.

“The Legislature’s intent, related to fully funding education, is putting the money toward that which the court has said it needs to go, and that is salaries,” said Rep. Mike Pellicciotti in a WEA news release. “I would expect school districts are going to be honoring that requirement.”

Fuller said this was the first year she and her team went into bargaining knowing there was money on the table. There have been years in the past where the groups had to figure out how to navigate limited finances, and others when they didn’t know what was available, she said.

The two teams were able to retool the salary schedule, Fuller said. A teacher’s pay is based on factors that include experience and credits they have received. While salaries will increase this year by 18.5 percent on average, that figure does not apply across the board. Some educators may see a little more or less, she said.

That also holds true in Monroe.

Bruton said the school district and education association teams settled on roughly 17-18 percent pay increases for teachers on average. There will also be raises over the next two years of the contract, which will not be as high as this year’s.

“It was hugely different this year,” Bruton said. “It was a lot harder to negotiate. This was the first time they had a school board member on the school district’s negotiating team.”

Educators and other community members held a few rallies last month in support of the MEA’s efforts. Bruton said she and the association’s members appreciated the Monroe community’s patience during the negotiation process. A strike looked imminent two weeks ago, and families weren’t sure if their kids would miss school, she said.

A tentative agreement hadn’t been reached as of Aug. 31, and contracts expired that night.

The money is there for an agreement that “secures fair and competitive pay” for Monroe’s certificated educators, the MEA stated in a news release that went out that day.

The school district called for a mediator to be brought in over the weekend, Bruton said. During that process both teams are no longer in the same room. The mediator relays messages back and forth to each group, she said.

“I feel like both sides negotiated well, and we came to a fair deal between the two of us,” Bruton said.

In the news release she had said it was necessary for teachers to receive competitive wages, so the school district can attract and retain quality candidates. That is for the “sake of our current students and future generations,” she said.

Fuller said it will be a few years before school districts really see the impact from this year’s negotiations, and the resolution of McCleary. School districts throughout the state will have various advantages and disadvantages. Some will receive a higher annual allocation per teacher than others, she said.

Washington State School Directors Association executive director Tim Garchow cautions against comparing school districts. Each school district will receive different amounts of state funding for the same amount of teachers, he said in a WSSDA news release.

“This means that one district’s ability to provide a salary increase may be dramatically less than another district located right next door,” he said in the release.

Both district school boards still need to ratify the tentative agreements. Fuller said she hasn’t seen the Sultan School Board oppose approval for new contracts since she has been on the bargaining team.

“We are glad to have deal done,” she said. “We understand and support our colleagues around the state who don’t.”