Legislators discuss pay inequities at OC

Four Washington state legislators met on Thursday night with a small group of Olympic College students and faculty to hear their concerns about perceived pay inequities at the school. While they promised to push the cause forward in the 2006 Legislative session, the prevailing message was that they needed to directly plead their own case.

“They need to see your face,” said Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo). “This makes a tremendous difference. And you have a new governor who wants to hear you.”

Added Rep. Kathy Haigh (D-Shelton), “You need to talk to the real leaders, like the chair of the Appropriations

Committee. The loudest squawk gets the most oil. This isn’t the best system. But it’s an old system, and that’s how it works.”

Aside from Appleton and Haigh, the meeting was attended by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor). Several other lawmakers were invited but had other commitments.

Aside from the general state of teacher salaries (“If people really knew what teachers make, they would know it’s ridiculous,” Haigh said) several specific issues emerged. While full-time teachers are paid poorly enough, adjunct (part-time) teachers make about half the money for the same work.

Speaker Jack Longmate, an adjunct professor, said there are 366 such positions at Olympic College, with many not receiving proper healthcare coverage.

Another issue is the general pay scale, which compares unfavorably to the structure in place fro K-12 teachers. Instructor Nathan Hong told of a discussion he had with a Bainbridge Island secondary school teacher who made 22 percent more than his salary.

“I’m not going to get a job in the Bainbridge schools because I like it here,” Hong said. “But I work here in spite of the pay, not because of it.”

“I can’t believe we have a class of workers who have so much responsibility and make so little money,” Appleton said. “We can make a difference. We do have a surplus this year, but we also have a 1,000-pound gorilla on our shoulder because we missed a payment on our pension fund. I don’t think we want to do that again.”

Kilmer, who comes from a family of educators and expects to get some intense lobbying around Thanksgiving, took a longer view. Of the new jobs emerging, many require the skills taught at community colleges.

If the colleges aren’t turning out graduates, the jobs are unfilled, with a negative impact on the economy.

“What happens at our colleges really effects our economy,” he said. “If we can’t fill the jobs, we won’t be able to compete.”

Kilmer said the 2008 graduating class will be the largest in history, and it is important to have the ability to educate those students locally. The state university system isn’t equipped to handle all the graduating seniors, so they will either go out of state or get no education at all because of the expense.

Additional concerns included meager cost-of-living raises that lag behind the inflation rate and the campus renovation program, which for some represents additional inequities.

“Having a new Humanities Building should be a point of pride,” said professor Tom Cameron of the proposed new Humanities Building. “But it only make me angrier. Because all the people who are going to work there are well-educated and capable, and you won’t pay them what they are worth.”

“You have a powerful message,” Appleton said. “You shouldn’t stop the e-mails and the phone calls, but you need to take it to Olympia and present it face-to-face.”

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