The union representing Evergreen Public Schools teachers turned up the volume with the school district Wednesday, threatening again to strike next week.
“The district’s decision to ignore us just increases the likelihood that the entire community will see the impact of our board’s head-in-the-sand strategy after Tuesday’s strike vote,” the union posted on its website.
If agreement is not reached, teachers will decide next Tuesday whether to strike, which would delay the start of the school year for 26,000 students in Southwest Washington’s largest school district. With a possible strike vote looming, the question remains: Will enough teachers support it?
For a strike to occur in Evergreen, a “yes” vote by as few as 367 of the union’s 1,830 teachers could authorize a strike, depending on how many union members attend Tuesday’s general membership meeting.
UpdatePreviously: About 300 teachers, parents and community members gathered at a special school board meeting Tuesday night in which the board approved the district’s 2016-2017 budget.What’s new: The union and district have reached a tentative agreement regarding curriculum, but four key bargaining issues still remain.What’s next: Mediated bargaining continues through this week. At the Aug. 30 union membership meeting, teachers will either ratify a new contract or vote to strike. The current contract expires Aug. 31, the first day of school.
Each teachers union sets its own requirements for strike votes, explained Dale Folkerts, spokesman for Washington Education Association. For Evergreen teachers to strike, one third of the 1,830 membership — 610 members — must be present for the vote to count, and supermajority of those present — 60 percent plus one –must vote “yes.”
Greater attendance would push the required number of “yes” votes higher. A turnout of 1,000 members, for example, would require 601 “yes” votes to authorize a strike.
During a break in negotiations Wednesday, Evergreen Education Association President Rob Lutz said the union is encouraging members to attend Tuesday.
“We’re trying to make sure that there’s a good turnout,” Lutz said.
There’s another requirement, Folkerts of the state teachers union said. Those 600 plus members also must represent at least 60 percent of district schools.
With only two mediated bargaining sessions left this week to hammer out a contract, and many bargaining points still hanging, a strike vote seems increasingly likely.
About 300 Evergreen Public Schools teachers, parents and community members picketed at the district office before Tuesday night’s special school board meeting. Minutes before the meeting started, word came that the school board had canceled the meeting’s public comment portion. Around the parking lot “boos” began resonating from teachers.
As they filed inside, the board room’s 160 capacity was quickly filled. Teachers wearing red shirts lined up against three sides of the rooms. The roughly 150 teachers who couldn’t fit into the room returned to the parking lot, where they chanted slogans throughout the meeting. At one point, a board member asked that the windows be closed.
With public comment eliminated by the board, union members and parents took the opportunity to comment during the only public comment time allowed, during the budget discussion.
Mary Brophy, a physical therapist who works for the district, asked whether it was true that the district has $26 million more in the general fund for 2016-2017 than it did the previous school year.
Mike Merlino, the district’s chief operating officer, said that $20 million in the 2016-17 budget was earmarked for computers and electronic devices.
This fall the district will distribute electronic tablets at four elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school, said Gail Spolar, district spokeswoman. Eventually, by the 2017-18 school year, all students from fourth grade on up will receive electronic tablets. Teachers will also receive devices. In lower grades, teachers will receive classroom sets of tablets, but students will not take tablets home.
The district is purchasing about 20,000 electronic tablets at about $1,000 each. By leasing the tablets rather than buying them, the district can update technology after the four-year lease expires, Spolar said.
The union and district reached a potential agreement on curriculum. However, four key bargaining points remained: salary and benefits competitive with the state’s 10 largest districts, more support for special education students, additional counselors and support services and securing enough substitute teachers by offering higher pay.
“We just completed a comprehensive counterproposal to the district,” Lutz said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re trying to get this thing moving toward settlement.”
“The district will be at the bargaining table until the last minute,” Spolar said. “They’ve committed to that.”
The union’s current contract expires Aug. 31. That’s also the first day of school.