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Left to right: Suzanne Southerland, Candy Herrera, and Sophie Lin rehearse chants before marching at the Clark College Association of Higher Education’s rally for fair pay in Vancouver. April 5.

Clark College faculty came out in wet weather last week to demonstrate for higher salaries with union officials pointing to pay discrepancy between professors at the Vancouver school and those at similar community colleges as well as K-12 educators.

About 100 faculty and supporters marched from the college campus to a nearby park April 5 as part of an effort to draw attention to the Clark College Association of Higher Education (AHE), the college’s faculty union, as they go through negotiations with college administration for pay increases.

Joining AHE were union heads for K-12 school districts as well as those representing painters, longshoremen and the Southwest Washington Central Labor Council.

A release from the AHE pointed to the tops of pay scales both at Clark College, Portland-area colleges as well as local K-12 school districts. The release noted that while Clark’s pay scale topped out at $76,145, nearby Mount Hood Community College’s scale topped at $92,019, Portland Community College’s was at $91,089 and Hockinson School District’s was $91,930.

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The crowd that gathered for the Clark College Association of Higher Education's rally on fair pay at Vancouver Central Park. April 5.

Suzanne Southerland, a senator for Clark College AHE, said that starting salaries at the college were in the bottom quarter of all Washington community colleges. She explained the AHE has been in negotiations with college administration since November, though she remarked there hadn’t been any breakthroughs yet.

A statement from Clark College affirmed support of its faculty, noting that statewide Washington community college professors made 12 percent less than their peers in other states. The statement went on saying that Clark and other community colleges had been lobbying in Olympia for additional funding from the state Legislature to allow for faculty raises.

“The college has to consider multiple factors: our faculty’s needs, what is sustainable by the college, pay equity among different groups of employees and potential impacts on the educational mission of the college,” the college’s statement read.

Clark College Spokesperson Kelly Love said that the institution was in its seventh year of decreasing enrollment, limiting both state and tuition funding. She said, as a result, the college was planning for a 5 percent budget cut effective July 1, though she noted the college did not have the final numbers as the state budget has not been approved yet.

Love explained that this was the first time the AHE has asked for salary increases due to recent changes in the law passed by the state Legislature allowing for negotiations between faculty and individual colleges.

“But the Legislature didn’t appropriate additional funds to the colleges to fund those increases,” Love explained. She noted that unlike K-12 education, Clark and other community colleges couldn’t rely on local funds such as tax levies.

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Roben White from Vancouver gives a speech to the crowd for the Clark College Association of Higher Education’s rally on fair pay at Vancouver Central Park. April 5.

With negotiations ongoing, Love did not provide any specifics on offers from either party, though she said more bargaining would take place this week.

Southerland’s characterization of the college’s support of faculty was less positive. She questioned why supporting its professors with raises was such an issue. She pointed to a potential solution that came from a change in state law made last year that could lead to faculty getting compensated outside of state allowances — 2018’s House Bill 1237 allows for local funds such as tuition to be used to compensate teachers. 

Prior to the march, Southerland noted that one of AHE’s major goals would be to increase pay for adjunct professors first, those faculty who did not have tenure and in many cases work at multiple colleges in the area in order to piece together an income.

“We wouldn’t exist without (adjunct professors), we couldn’t function,” Southerland said. 

Southerland said that the AHE had only recently focused on community outreach to raise awareness, remarking that so far the response had been “incredible.”

“I think that the more the word gets out the more support we are going to get,” Southerland remarked. She said historically Clark College professors made about 10 percent less than K-12 educators, though now that disparity was close to 20 to 25 percent.

Southerland said that it was the faculty’s goal to get back to that smaller pay discrepancy before salaries drift any farther apart.

“We just need to catch up,” Southerland remarked. “The longer we wait … the harder it’s going to be to catch up.”

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