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Longview schools

A standing-room-only audience Monday night demanded that Longview school secretaries get pay raises that their union says are mandated by the state.

The Longview Classified Public Employees Association is seeking to reopen the secretaries’ labor contract, which runs through 2019.

And they want immediate 15 percent pay hikes, less than half of the 37 percent that union leaders say the Legislature’s “McCleary fix” requires for classified employees (secretaries, bus drivers, food service workers, and other support staff).

The district says it values its secretaries but says they already are paid more than their peers locally.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, the board listened but took no action.

Many of the secretaries emphasized the many roles their jobs entail, including serving as the “face of the school,” consoling troubled students, keeping track of grades and running social media.

“I know first-hand how hard secretaries and other office staff work on a daily basis, and how deserving they are of increased compensation,” said Rachell Coffee, a secretary for several schools for 12 years. “Anyone who has worked in education for any length of time will tell you that secretaries, office administrators and other classified staff are the ones who keep our schools running.”

Kim Harrison, the secretary union president, affirmed that secretary staff “are professionals that deserve respect and support from the Longview School District.”

Many supporters echoed the same sentiment: “I believe it is in bad faith not to come to the table and negotiate salary increases for the employees who support the success at our schools.”

According to the Washington Education Association’s Lower Columbia representative Roy Maier, the school district has decided to not reopen negotiations with the district’s 67 secretaries.

“I think it’s shameful and almost immoral,” Maier said in a Monday interview.

In a statement released earlier Monday, the district said secretaries and educational support staff “are important and valued employees” and are the highest paid in Cowlitz County, with an average salary of $47,150.

The state allots an average salary of $46,784 for all classified support positions, the district stated.

Maier said comparing these figures are misleading, because some classified support positions have lower salaries than secretaries, so that average income would naturally be lower.

The district also stated that it employs 166 full-time educational support employees and secretaries, while the state only funds the district for 103 full-time workers.

“Given the secretarial staff is already paid over state allotment standards, and the district employs more support (full-time employees) than the state funds, the Superintendent sees no need to reopen a labor contract to negotiate even higher pay,” the district’s release said.

If the district doesn’t decide to re-negotiate secretary pay on Friday, Maier said he would file an unfair labor practice statement.

Of secretaries, he said: “These are the people that are just servants, quite frankly, to the public. Everybody loves their school secretary … they’re just incredible people. First person you see walking in to the building.”

After the meeting, Superintendent Dan Zorn said that the district is conferring with its lawyers about possibly re-negotiating secretary salaries before 2019, but it wasn’t likely to happen this year.

“The contract expires in 2019, and we look forward to sitting down with our secretaries next year and re-negotiating that contract,” he said, “but things can change.”

At the end of the meeting, board president C.J. Nickerson firmly stated his respect for the districts’ many secretaries.

“Let me just say that we do not underestimate what you do,” he said. “We greatly appreciate what you do.”

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