Sumner-Bonney Lake paraeducators set strike date. They say their pay isn’t fair

Paraeducators are set to strike if a bargaining agreement isn’t reached with Sumner-Bonney Lake School District by the end of next week.

The Sumner Paraeducators Associated (SPA) voted 99 percent last week to set Oct. 24 as a strike deadline.

They say that if there’s no contract settlement reached by that day, they’re authorized to call for a strike beginning Oct. 25.

Union members say their wages aren’t competitive with nearby districts, and that paraeducators in Sumner-Bonney Lake are leaving as a result.

SPA’s current salary schedule shows hourly pay starting at $16.39.

By comparison, Tacoma paraeducator pay starts at $16.41, Puyallup paraeducators start at $18.61 and Franklin Pierce paras start at $17.35.

The union of roughly 200 consists mostly of paraeducators and a handful of of licensed practical nurses, certified occupational therapy assistants and physical therapy assistants. Paraeducators serve a variety of roles, both in and out of the classroom, including assisting teachers and working one-on-one with students with specific needs.

“We need to feel valued and respected, and we’re just not feeling that,” paraeducator Shontay Krystofiak told The News Tribune on Wednesday. “We have to make a stand.”

The district values their paraeducators and are committed to bargaining in good faith, spokesperson Elle Warmuth told The News Tribune.

Both parties will return to the bargaining table on Friday. Bargaining on a new one-year contract started in June.

SPA members gathered Wednesday for a rally prior to the school board meeting, holding signs, chanting and wearing red. Some teachers from the Sumner Education Association also showed in solidarity.

More than a dozen signed up to speak during public comment to the board. Some read letters or support from families, while others shared their experiences in the classroom.

“I’ve heard from day one teachers that paras are the backbone of the district,” Krystofiak told the board. “We work with some of the most challenging children in our district … There is one thing I know about backbones, and that is if you don’t value the job that it does and you take your backbone for granted, you struggle to stand upright.”