In response to the Issaquah School District choosing not to honor cost of living adjustments, paraeducators and office personnel union members held a rally at the Nov. 7 district board meeting to express their disappointment and ask for additional meetings to discuss the contract.
Representatives from the Public Schools Employees (PSE) union said the ISD paraeducators and office personnel had a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in their most recent contract in order to offset inflation and keep up with the growing costs of living. When the new fiscal year began on Sept. 1, employees discovered the district would not be paying the COLA.
As previously reported, the district did honor a 2.5-percent salary increase for office personnel and a 4-percent increase for paraeducators, but the additional COLA increase is not being paid. The contract was negotiated and approved in early 2017.
Emily Freet, president of the Public School Employees Union in Issaquah and assistant to the principal at Maple Hills Elementary, said the COLA is usually a percentage based on their total amount of pay. She said the district did not proactively tell them about the lack of payment and they had to ask what percentage of their total pay the COLA would represent.
“We were asking what that amount would be and they said that amount would be zero. That’s how we found out,” Freet said. “In addition to them not honoring the contract, it felt extremely disrespectful.”
John Kapple, field representative with Public School Employees SEIU Local 1948, said the 400 paraeducators in the district also did not receive notice.
According to Kapple, the justification given for the lack of payment was the district claiming that COLA not longer existed under state law because it was renamed to the “inflationary adjustment” in the McCleary decision salary schedule. The inflationary adjustment is based on an implicit price deflator (IPD) calculation, a calculation designed for the same purpose as the COLA.
“Both of those are ways to express inflation. COLA is figured on consumer price index where IPD is figured with a different measurement, but the spirit is the same,” Freet said.
The employees held their rally outside of the ISD administration building before the board meeting began. During the meeting’s public comment section, employees and union representatives spoke about the importance of paraeducators and support staff throughout the district, and they asked the board to honor the contract that had been signed.
Freet was also disappointed because she had heard negotiations for the contract in 2017 had been positive and didn’t want to see the relationship between the administration and employees deteriorate.
“I was not part of the bargaining process for this particular contract, but the way it was characterized to me was really encouraging. Historically, this is a group of employees who have told me they have felt unappreciated, marginalized, and really didn’t get a fair shake at the bargaining table,” she said. “When they were bargaining for this contract, they felt the process went really well. They felt like they had come to the table in good faith and had great interactions with the district and came to this mutual agreement that everybody signed and ratified… Now, having not being paid according to contract, being surprised how that went down, is taking things back even further from a relationship and trust perspective.”
When reached for comment, Issaquah School District Deputy Superintendent Josh Almy said the district’s position is they don’t believe there was a COLA for 2018-19 in the agreement and will be following the grievance process outlined in the contract to address the situation.