BATTLE GROUND — Battle Ground teachers are the latest to announce a strike, as the union voted overwhelmingly to approve a work stoppage Wednesday night.
Teachers clad in red crowded the Battle Ground High School gym where, by a vote of 98.4 percent, they voted to approve a strike effective on the first day of school if a deal is not reached before then. Of the 693 votes cast, 682 approved the strike.
Linda Peterson, president of the BGEA, said she was not surprised at all by the results.
“I’m so proud of these people,” she said as the meeting ended.
The district, Clark County’s third largest with about 13,500 students, joins a slate of other unions that have already voted to strike in the midst of sour contract negotiations. Hockinson and Washougal’s unions voted Tuesday to strike, and were preceded by Vancouver and Ridgefield’s unions.
The first day of school in Battle Ground is Aug. 29.
Teachers unions and school districts across Washington are negotiating new salary schedules for teachers in light of school funding legislation approved to address the 2012 McCleary decision, a state Supreme Court case that found Washington was failing to fully fund basic education. Last year, the Legislature approved $7.3 billion in allocations to schools over four years, and the Legislature added another nearly $1 billion for teacher salaries this year.
In light of the influx of new money, the Washington Education Association is pushing its membership to ask for 15 percent raises for certified teachers, and 37 percent raises for the classified support staff represented by some teachers unions.
Battle Ground Public Schools has called the union’s proposal unsustainable, saying it will drive the district into a deficit over the next several years. The teachers union’s latest proposal would result in average total salaries of $86,760 — a 30.1 percent increase from last year’s total average salary. Battle Ground’s offer, meanwhile, would give average salaries of $72,760, a 9.1 percent pay increase.
“Battle Ground Public Schools will continue bargaining with its teachers union to reach an agreement that is beneficial to all, and has requested a mediator to assist in the process,” the district said in a statement after the strike vote. “The BGPS Board of Directors and leadership team is committed to providing staff with fair local market wages and benefits that are fiscally responsible and sustainable.”
Still, teachers in Battle Ground and at other districts have called offers insulting, saying it flies in the face of the additional money allocated by the state.
“It’s blatant disrespect for what the state government, the governor, the Supreme Court intended for that money,” said Konni Boll, a first-grade teacher at Pleasant Valley Primary School. “(They) intended for that money to come straight to us.”
Over the 2017-2018 school year, Battle Ground teachers averaged a salary of $68,476, which was $653 shy of what the state has allocated to the district for teacher salaries. That’s according to new data released Wednesday by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Chris Reykdal, the superintendent of public instruction, warned in a letter to superintendents that “not every district will have an equal opportunity to provide compensation increases with double digit percentages.”
“You are limited by what you can afford, and what you can sustain,” Reykdal, an elected Democrat, wrote.
The next school district slated for a strike vote is Clark County’s largest: Evergreen Public Schools.
Evergreen Public Schools announced Wednesday that a mediator from the Public Employment Relations Commission was joining bargaining discussions. The same PERC mediator joined the table in 2016, when heated contract negotiations threatened a strike that year, as well.
“A mediator is not an arbitrator,” said Bill Beville, Evergreen Education Association president, by text after the announcement. “The district still needs to bargain with us. It’s only one topic.”
According to OSPI’s recent data analysis, Evergreen Public Schools is already paying its teachers an average salary above the state allocation. Teachers in the district averaged $71,831 in salary last year, $2,702 more than the $69,129 the state is allocating to the district for salaries.
At more than 26,000 students, a strike at Evergreen Public Schools could put nearly a third of Clark County’s 80,000 children out of school.
The district will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday at Evergreen High School to vote.