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Many teachers negotiate double-digit pay increases as others talk about strikes

SEATTLE -- Many teachers have scored big pay hikes as they get ready to start another school year.

“In Western Washington, there have been double-digit pay raises for districts like Sedro-Woolley Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Lake Washington,” Washington Education Association spokesperson Rich Wood said.

But teachers in other districts such as Bethel, Seattle and Tacoma have not been able to reach a deal so far. Many teacher unions are seeking around a 15% pay hike.

“We are worried about getting fair pay for teachers in this district; districts around us have worked out settlements,” said Cheryl Thramer with the Mount Vernon Education Association.

But fair pay is subjective, according to the Washington Policy Center.

“There is a misapprehension in the public about teachers being underpaid,” Liv Finne, of the Washington Policy Center, said.

The Washington Policy Center says the statewide average salary for a teacher is about $71,000. It says that breaks down to $48 an hour, excluding benefits.

The Washington Policy Center says the average wage for a worker in Washington state is $57,057, or $27 an hour.

According to data from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, a teacher in the Bethel School District, on average, is making $69,911, Kent is at $73,299, Tacoma is $75,432, Seattle is $77,239 and, on average, Everett teachers are making $87,731.

Of those districts, Everett has reached a deal so the average salary will be higher for Everett teachers.

“Most teachers are being paid quite well; you can make six-figure salaries as a teacher,” Finne said.

“I don’t think you can look at the average and make a broad statement somehow that teachers are overpaid in Washington,” Wood said.

If you want to know exactly how much each teacher is taking home, there is a website www.fiscal.wa.gov that tracks individual salaries.

The Office of Financial Management tracks the numbers.

When you look at the latest data set for 2016 -2017 in Seattle, for example, there are salaries in the six figures and also close to it. But there are also salaries that are much lower -- the range is wide.

“Compared to other professions with the same level of experience, same level of education ... teachers are underpaid,” Wood said.

WEA says the state has been lagging behind on pay raises for educators for many years and they see the McCleary decision that pumped billions more into public education as a historic opportunity to catch up.

The policy staff at the Washington State Senate confirming that over 6 years the state will be injecting $9.2 billion which is a 68% increase in education funding.

“We have worked so hard and deserve the money and now the money is here,” Laura Hittenrauch, with the Bethel Education Association, said.

“Now is a really once in a lifetime opportunity,” Wood said.

That’s why some teacher unions are setting deadlines on negotiations in preparation for a strike if they cannot reach a deal with their districts.