Washougal teachers vote down contract

Union members will be at work on Thursday

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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Washougal teachers will return to their classrooms Thursday without a new contract, after a ratification vote on a new pact failed.

To ratify the new labor contract, 60 percent of the nearly 200 members of the Washougal Association of Educators would have had to approve it. But the vote, taken Wednesday morning, fell short.

“Our members are concerned over the same issues,” said Frank Zahn, association president. “Those issues are respect, compensation issues and concerns over classroom issues, such as combination classes,” in which two grades of classes are grouped in the same classroom.

Zahn said a “substantial majority” of members voted. “It came really close (to passing),” he said, while declining to give exact vote totals.

The association has another meeting scheduled for the second week of school to hear from members, and plans to schedule another negotiating session with the Washougal School District.

Superintendent Mike Stromme, however, disputed Zahn’s complaints, saying the district cannot be expected to pay teachers comparably to other, larger districts in the region that are able to generate more revenue from their tax base.

“The compensation the school district tentatively agreed to is comparable to school districts our enrollment size,” he said.

He also said no combination classes have been scheduled for the school year. The joined classrooms are only scheduled if the enrollment at an elementary school isn’t sufficient to add an entire classroom.

“We believe the agreement fairly and equitably compensates our teachers,” Stromme said. “We value their commitment to our students, families, and community.”

Washougal’s first day of school is Thursday and Zahn said teachers will be at work.

Zahn has been involved with the association for 13 years, and president for the past six. This is the first time since he’s been involved with the association that a ratification vote did not pass.

The two sides started meeting with a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission in late August after initial talks stalled. The deadline to get a new contract in place was Aug. 31, and the district and association announced they reached a tentative agreement on Sept. 1. The last time the two sides negotiated, they couldn’t reach a deal by the Aug. 31, 2015, deadline, and a new deal wasn’t reached until Dec. 28, 2015.

“We want to do what’s right for kids,” Zahn said. “That’s a bandied-about phrase, but that’s the truth.”

Reporter Katie Gillespie contributed to this story.