In Battle Ground, the teachers union and school district officials are living up to the town’s name. More sparks likely will fly at tonight’s school board meeting.
The two sides are heading back to the contract bargaining table Friday as they try to reach a contract for the current school year.
“Stalemate” is the word that best describes the nine-month-long contract negotiations. The two groups have been negotiating since May, and for the past few months have held multiple bargaining sessions with a mediator from the state Public Employment Relations Commission.
The teachers’ contract expired Aug. 31.
The union is asking for more compensation for teachers for time spent outside of the regular day, longevity pay for teachers who have worked in the district for many years, reduced class sizes and a full-time counselor in each of the district’s six primary schools.
• Previously: The Battle Ground teachers union and school administrators are mired in nine months of negotiations, making the district Clark County’s last without a 2015-16 contract.
• What’s new: On Jan. 25, the union added a proposal requesting extended-day pay for general education teachers for 2016-17. The union hadn’t discussed the 2016-17 school year before.
Both the union and the district say the other side’s financial projections are incorrect.
• What’s next: The school board meets at 6 tonight in Room C-26, Building C, Lewisville Campus, 406 N.W. Fifth Ave., Battle Ground.
The union and the district will meet face to face with the state-appointed mediator Friday to see if they can agree on the cost of the teachers’ proposal and the district’s offer.
“The district is not willing to bargain the counselors, the longevity and the class size,” said Linda Peterson, president of the Battle Ground Education Association.
According to Battle Ground Public Schools, almost $4 million separates what the union is requesting and what the district is offering. The district estimates the cost of the union’s requests to be about $3.35 million in 2015-2016 and $6.16 million in 2016-2017. In turn, the district is offering $1.38 million in 2015-2016 and $2.2 million in 2016-2017.
Peterson says the union disputes some of the district’s cost projections.
In turn, Mark Hottowe, superintendent of Battle Ground Public Schools, says the district disputes some of the union’s numbers.
On Friday, Peterson said she asked Hottowe if the union and district could meet face to face with the state-appointed mediator to discuss the disputed estimated costs of primary counselors, longevity pay for longtime teachers and additional extended days and TRI pay, which is extra pay teachers receive for working beyond the regular school day. The two sides have agreed to meet for an hour Friday at the beginning of the bargaining session. During the mediated bargaining sessions, the two parties usually do not meet face to face.
“We will both bring our estimates of what those items will cost and have that discussion so that those numbers should align better,” Peterson said. “I am hopeful that the first hour of the negotiations, we’ll come to an understanding of the cost of the items BGEA is asking for.”
The teachers union says Battle Ground teachers are paid far less than teachers in neighboring districts. On its Facebook page, the union posted a chart on Jan. 19 comparing the TRI pay of Battle Ground teachers with teachers in neighboring Evergreen, Vancouver, Camas and Hockinson school districts. TRI pay — for time, responsibility and incentive — covers time spent outside the classroom for things like grading papers and planning lessons.
But the district disputes the union’s numbers and pointed out the union had posted the 2014-2015 dollar amounts for Battle Ground. The union did not include the 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment all school district employees statewide are being paid for the 2015-2016 school year. On Friday, Peterson said the union would be adjusting those numbers on its Facebook page.
In addition to the 3 percent COLA this year, all school district employees statewide will receive a 1.8 percent cost of living adjustment next school year.
Currently, Battle Ground basic education teachers make between $38,380 and $72,340 per year in total compensation, plus $9,300 in health benefits and an average of $13,000 in other benefits, including retirement.
Hottowe has pointed out that the district doesn’t have enough money available to meet the union’s request. The district’s fund balance — akin to a savings account — totals only $3.2 million. That’s equivalent to 2.5 percent of the district’s general fund expenses.
In comparison, the Hockinson district’s ratio of fund balance to total expenditure is 16.4 percent; Camas, 15.2 percent; Evergreen, 10.4 percent; and Vancouver, 9 percent.
“If we had the resources, I would gladly support the union’s current proposal,” Hottowe wrote. “Our teachers are worthy of every advantage we can offer. Unfortunately, if we made the decision to support this proposal, we would have to make serious cuts to a budget that barely meets our ongoing needs.”
Before Hottowe was hired in July 2014, the fund balance was so low Battle Ground had been placed on the state’s financial watch list. Since then, the district has built up its fund balance and has been removed from that list. However, Hottowe says it will still take about eight years before the district’s fund balance is comparable to neighboring districts’.
“The total fund balance isn’t enough for the teachers,“ said Hottowe. “Don’t you think some people could look at this and be reasonable and not ask for the moon?”
All other public school districts in Clark County have current contracts with their teachers.
After months of bargaining sessions, the Washougal Association of Educators and the Washougal School District board of directors recently ratified a new, two-year contract for district teachers. It includes a 5.4 percent pay increase over the next two years, along with a state-funded 4.8 percent cost of living adjustment, for a total increase of 10.2 percent.
Meanwhile, Battle Ground teachers continue to picket in visible places in the community.
“I think a lot of parents are unaware of what is happening in our negotiation,” Peterson said. “We’ve made a conscious decision to be very visible, to be telling our story, to let the parents and the community know.”
If tonight’s school board meeting is anything like the previous meeting, tempers are likely to flare as angry teachers speak during the public comment time. About 100 teachers attended the last school board meeting.