With less than two weeks until school begins, a state-appointed mediator is joining contract negotiations between the Evergreen Education Association and Evergreen Public Schools Thursday. The mediator is provided by the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission.
“We are still trusting the process and hoping to get to resolution,” said Gail Spolar, school district spokeswoman.
Union President Rob Lutz said the union also hopes for resolution.
“I’m at the table right now. My team’s at the table right now working as hard as we can to get a deal,” Lutz said during a break in negotiations Wednesday. “But we need the district to not be obstructionists so we can accomplish these things. We need to put together a deal.”
Although the teachers union is trusting in the bargaining process, they also are taking action. Teachers gathered at union headquarters to make picket signs Wednesday afternoon. Union members plan to picket at two busy intersections in the school district Friday morning.
“We’ve had this constant situation where we’re nibbling on the issues of bargaining, but not bargaining substantial issues,” Lutz said. “(The district) has given us a counter (offer) that’s literally just a grammatical change. They’ve made a choice to not work with us.”
If an agreement is not reached during four days of negotiations next week, teachers plan to picket at the district’s four comprehensive high schools — Evergreen, Heritage, Mountain View and Union — at 8 a.m. Aug. 26.
The following bargaining points are listed on the union’s Facebook page:
• Counseling and other special services need to be better staffed so students are ready to learn. Current staffing does not allow counselors to support students one-on-one.
• More support for special needs students. Current staffing does not provide one-to-one help.
• Provide basic materials, curriculum and instructional time for the benefit of students and teachers.
• Create incentives to solve the substitute teacher shortage. Students deserve access to librarians, music, physical education and arts teachers, who currently are pulled to cover sub shortages.
• Pay competitive salaries and benefits commensurate with the state’s 10 largest districts. Evergreen is the state’s fifth-largest district.
“These are all issues that are not new,” Lutz said. “Everyone else is having these problems. Our district is not working with us.”
With just over 26,000 students, Evergreen is the largest school district in Southwest Washington. The union represents more than 1,830 teachers.
Evergreen teachers made between $40,417 and $76,179 in total compensation during the 2015-2016 school year. Without additional district money added to their pay through bargaining, district teachers would earn between $41,144 and $77,549 during the 2016-2017 school year. That bump in pay is the result of a raise from the state.
Rising health insurance premiums are part of the salary package being discussed, Lutz said. The state provides $780 a month for health insurance for each full-time employee, but the district doesn’t kick in any money for teachers’ health care premiums. Some districts do. As premiums rise, many Evergreen teachers pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket.
Since early this year, the school district has retained Porter Foster Rorick, a Seattle law firm that specializes in school law and municipal law, to bargain on behalf of the district. The district’s attorney who previously worked on negotiations recently retired. Lance Andree, the firm’s attorney assigned to the case, has been involved since the negotiations began in March. Previously he has negotiated collective bargaining agreements in public school districts across the state, according to the firm’s website.
The union is assisted in negotiations by the local Washington Education Association UniServ director.
WEA, the state teachers union, weighed in on the contract negotiations Wednesday in a news release.
“Negotiations continue at a glacial pace … increasing the likelihood of a teacher strike when schools are scheduled to begin Aug. 31,” the news release said.
Dale Folkerts, WEA spokesman, said union members “are ramping up preparations, but are still attempting to convince district leaders to begin negotiating seriously at the bargaining table. The district has resisted meaningfully addressing the key issues that must be resolved to avoid a strike vote on Aug. 30.”
Lutz also acknowledged that both sides are running out of time.
“We’re working long and hard on issues, but there hasn’t been much movement,” Lutz said. “We have six bargaining days left, counting (Wednesday). … If there isn’t agreement reached, the teachers will take a strike vote.”