Hundreds of Kennewick teachers, nurses and other certificated workers rallied and marched Tuesday, saying the school district is getting millions more from the state for their salaries and benefits but isn't passing it onto them.
The educators wore red shirts and carried signs with messages like, "Teachers are role models, not doormats."
"They want a living wage. And we need to compete. To keep the brightest and best, we need to have a competitive salary," said Janet Bell, president of the Kennewick Education Association, or KEA.
The group represents about 1,200 certificated workers.
They haven't had a significant raise in years, Bell said.
But as part of an overhaul of public education funding in Washington, the Legislature has allocated about $1 billion more for teacher pay, and the KEA wants to negotiate a salary adjustment in the current three-year contract, which is set to expire at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
The Kennewick district has the money to pay teachers more, Bell said.
But the district said that while it's getting about $11 million more for teacher pay and benefits, it's poised to lose even more than that because of a state-mandated levy cap. The levy hit will start in the second half of next school year.
Under the cap, school districts must limit their local property tax levies to $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value — less than half the current levy rate in Kennewick.
The district plans to honor the current teacher contract, officials said.
And, it's "committed to working with the KEA on an appropriate cost of living adjustment for 2018-19, and looks forward to negotiating a new contract next spring to replace the current contract that expires in August of 2019," the district information said.
State lawmakers specifically exempted districts like Kennewick that already had contracts in place from having to go back to the negotiating table over the funding system changes, the district said.
KEA disputed that, saying a new law later was passed. Leaders also said the district is getting millions in other new state funding and has substantial reserves.
The education funding system changes are happening because of the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision, which said the state was failing in its constitutional duty to fully pay for basic education and was relying too much on local property tax levies.
Lawmakers instituted the levy cap and came up with a plan to invest billions in public education, including through a state property tax increase.
At the rally, teachers said they love their jobs and students.
"If we're going to attract and retain good teachers — the best teachers, the most professional teachers for our kids — we need to be paying the teachers what they're worth," said Chris Fischer of Desert Hills Middle School. "If the money is there to pay them, then that money should go to the teachers."
Patrick Matthes of Kamiakin High School added that, "it's overdue. The time has come."