The Washougal Association of Educators and Washougal School District are still in negotiations on a new teachers contract as the district nears the start of a new school year. The current contract expires Thursday.
The two sides met with a professional mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission on Wednesday after initial talks stalled. The Washougal Association of Educators is focused on professional compensation, insurance premiums, professional development and elementary school classrooms split between grades.
The two sides started meeting in June. At a school board meeting last Tuesday, teachers and supporters filled the district office meeting room. Many teachers spoke.
Hillary Marshall, library media specialist at Washougal High School, said she’s proud of the district’s vision of technology, but she’s been looking for work elsewhere because she’s frustrated with her salary.
Pam Ausman, a special education teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School, read a letter from a former district teacher who moved to another district. The letter writer said he or she didn’t feel respected in Washougal, and the district didn’t offer competitive TRI pay, or money paid to teachers for work they do planning lessons and grading papers outside of the regular school day.
“The lack of professional consideration in regards to salaries, including TRI pay and professional development funds, compared to other local districts was one of the driving factors behind my decision to leave the district,” the letter said.
According to a negotiations update put out by the district on Aug. 20, the district proposes to increase TRI pay from 131 hours to 164 hours per year. The union is seeking an increase to 166 hours after originally calling for 181 hours.
Frank Zahn, president of the Washougal Association of Educators, also read a letter from a former Washougal teacher, Jamie Anderson, who taught fourth grade at Gause Elementary School for three years. In the letter, Anderson also wrote about feeling valued and supported after leaving the district.
“I finally understand what it is like to teach in a district which values its educators so much that they compensate them fairly for their time,” Anderson wrote. “This is something that didn’t happen in Washougal.”
Giving Washougal teachers a more competitive salary compared with nearby districts was also a popular topic for speakers at Tuesday night’s meeting, including Rob Lutz, president of the Evergreen Education Association, which represents teachers in the county’s largest school district. He spoke partly to let Washougal teachers know the Evergreen union stands in support with them, and also to say he was a student teacher in the district about 12 years ago and opted to accept an offer in Evergreen because the pay was higher. He also told the teachers they are welcome to apply for jobs in Evergreen if Washougal doesn’t give them what they want.
The two sides are divided on professional development, with the district offering to increase the budget from $730 to $1,000 per teacher per year and to move the money to a reimbursable pre-tax account. The association wants an increase in professional development from $730 to $2,000 not tied to reimbursement of professional development expenses.
The last time the two sides negotiated, they couldn’t reach a deal by the Aug. 31, 2015, deadline; a new deal wasn’t reached until Dec. 28, 2015.
Both sides put out statements saying they hope to conclude negotiations before the start of the school year, Sept. 7.
If an agreement isn’t reached by Thursday, the district will honor the previous contract, according to the district’s update on its website.
“The expiration has no impact on teacher rights, benefits or working conditions,” the update said.
A release from the association said they hope to conclude negotiations before the start of the school year.
“Our most recent bargain went until Dec. 28, 2015, only because the association insisted on a contract, not a strike,” the release said.