Southwestern Washington Schools Cancel Classes As Strikes Continue

Teachers with the Evergreen School District picketing on Tuesday, Aug. 28. 2018. CREDIT: MOLLY SOLOMON
Teachers with the Evergreen School District picketing on Tuesday, Aug. 28. 2018. CREDIT: MOLLY SOLOMON

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All summer, teachers and school administrators in southwest Washington have been in contract negotiationsto avoid widespread strikes.

But now those strikes are happening.

Nearly every school district in Clark County has delayed the start of school and is on strike, with the exception of Woodland Public Schools where teachers bargained a 22.82 percent increase in base salary.

After lawmakers sent funding to address the McCleary decision — including an additional $1 billion passed this session — all 295 school districts in the state opened up their contracts. Most of those districts are still trying to reach a deal.

On Wednesday, teachers from Evergreen, Vancouver, Ridgefield, Hockinson, Washougal and Battle Ground headed to the picket line. In Cowlitz County, Longview’s union voted to strike immediately and has been picketing since last week.

Most recently teachers in the state’s largest school district, Seattle, voted on Tuesday to strike if a deal isn’t reached by next week.

A regionwide teacher strike is disrupting the start of school for the more than 78,000 students in the area, and it’s still unclear how long it could last.

Here’s the latest:

EVERGREEN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

School was canceled in the Evergreen district for Wednesday and Thursday. Union members and the administration are continuing negotiations with the help of a state-appointed mediator.

As those negotiations continued, teachers started to march on the picket line Tuesday.

“This is not the way that any teacher I know wants to spend the first day of school,” said Karen Cornell, who teaches special education at Cascade Middle School. “Unfortunately, this is sort of what we’ve been forced to do.”

According to the district’s current proposal, teachers would see an average 8.33 percent increase in compensation next year. The starting salary for a new teacher would be $50,687 and the most experienced teachers would receive $96,045, making the average Evergreen school teacher salary about $79,000.

The Evergreen Education Association is proposing a salary range of $57,288 to $97,764.

Evergreen school teachers are in the final year of a three-year contract that was previously negotiated in 2016. With more than 26,000 students, Evergreen Public Schools is the largest district in Clark County and the sixth-largest in the state.

VANCOUVER PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Bargaining teams with Vancouver Public Schools and the Vancouver Education Association met at length in the days leading up to the school year, but it wasn’t enough to reach a deal. Vancouver teachers said they would continue to strike Thursday.

“We want to make sure that our voices are heard and people know that we’re serious about this,” said Hudson’s Bay High School math teacher Joanie Hahn, who was out on the picket line Wednesday morning.

“We’ve been waiting a very long time for this,” she added, referring to promised wage increases following the long-awaited McCleary decision.

School Board President Rosemary Fryer said the district and teachers have made “positive progress” after long hours of negotiations since Sunday — but a deal hasn’t been made yet.

After a heated board meeting on Tuesday, the board passed what it called a “strike contingency plan,” six resolutions that allow the district to close school facilities, suspend compensation and health benefits and take legal action to terminate a strike.

Superintendent Steve Webb told the audience that the district did not plan to file a court injunction immediately and will only suspend health premium payments for October if a strike continues past Sept. 17, which by that point would be considered a gift of public funds, he said.

“Friends, we don’t have a choice in this matter,” Webb added.

The district’s most recent proposal is a three-year contract that would start teacher pay at $47,663, with up to $92,440 for more experienced teachers for the 2018–19 school year. The salary range would increase to $51,254 to $99,406 by the 2020–21 school year.

The union is proposing an average salary increase of 15.3 percent, raising wages to a range of $51,520 to $96,768. The district said this would cost them more than $20 million.

The two sides will continue to bargain, even as kids await the start of the school year.

WASHOUGAL SCHOOL DISTRICT

The Washougal Association of Educators members began their strike Tuesday for their scheduled first day of school. On Wednesday, the district announced that classes would be canceled for the rest of the week.

The Washougal School District’s latest offer included a 15.56 percent total compensation increase, which would result in a teacher salary range from $50,000 to $94,000.

The Washougal Association of Educators disagrees with the district’s proposal and is also arguing for smaller class sizes and stronger teacher retention.

“The district and the association have worked hard to reach an understanding but, unfortunately, we were not able to come to an agreement,” said Washougal Superintendent Dr. Mary Templeton.

School is scheduled to start on the first day after the strike ends.

Teachers rallied outside Washougal High School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. CREDIT: MOLLY SOLOMON

Teachers rallied outside Washougal High School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. CREDIT: MOLLY SOLOMON

HOCKINSON SCHOOL DISTRICT

Hockinson teachers will continue to strike Thursday.

The latest offer from Hockinson School District is an 8 percent increase, which would bring teachers’ wages up to $46,552 to $87,845.

Last week, the Hockinson Education Association voted to authorize a strike for the first time with 97 percent of the vote. The union and the district are negotiating a full teacher contract, as well as guidelines for special education and class sizes.

Erin Lark is starting her first year as a teacher at iTech Preparatory Middle School in Vancouver, Washington. She's preparing for the possibility of a strike on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, and is spending most of the week cleaning out her classroom. CREDIT: MOLLY SOLOMON

Erin Lark is starting her first year as a teacher at iTech Preparatory Middle School in Vancouver, Washington. She’s preparing for the possibility of a strike on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, and is spending most of the week cleaning out her classroom. CREDIT: MOLLY SOLOMON

BATTLE GROUND PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Battle Ground teachers announced Tuesday that they would be delaying the school year, and that strike will continue for the rest of the week. High school sports will proceed, even with the delay.

In a statement Tuesday, the district said, “the two groups disagree on what is available in the district’s budget for teacher compensation as a result of the McCleary decision.”

According to the district website, Battle Ground Public Schools is offering teachers a total average compensation increase of 6.5 percent, bringing the average salary up to $72,760.

The Battle Ground Education Association has countered that with a push to raise the average teacher salary to $86,760.

Last week, the union voted 98.4 percent to authorize a strike on the first day of school if they have not reached an agreement with the district.

RIDGEFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT

Ridgefield was the first district in Clark County to authorize a strike. Classes will remain canceled for the rest of the week as the union and district officials wait for a state-appointed mediator to be available.

The REA said it did not receive proposal from district officials after several hours of negotiating Tuesday.

The last known district offer included a 15.04 percent increase in pay, bringing the average teacher salary up to $73,302. The range in pay would go from $47,715 to $91,855.

The two sides will continue to negotiate with a state-appointed mediator.

CAMAS SCHOOL DISTRICT

Camas teacher union members voted Monday during an all-member meeting to go through with a strike on the first day of class if an agreement cannot be reached.

The Camas Education Association is not recommending a proposal brought by the district to its members, which would bring the average teacher salary up to $78,803 this school year and up to $80,632 the following year.

The union and the school district will continue to bargain until the first day of school on Sept. 4.

LONGVIEW PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Last week, Longview Education Association union members voted to strike immediately. Unlike other districts in the area, Longview teachers took to the picket line right away, instead of waiting until the first scheduled day of school. Classes will remain canceled on Thursday.

The teacher’s union rejected the district’s offer for a 6.9 percent average pay raise and is instead pushing for an 11 percent increase.

“Teachers in our area just want to get paid what the state sent down,” said union president Ray Clift.

The district’s proposal would raise the average teacher salary to $69,999.

The union and the district are continuing to negotiate at the bargaining table with the help of a mediator.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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