The votes weren’t even fully submitted before Evergreen Public Schools teachers started making picket signs.
As hundreds of teachers poured from Evergreen High School Thursday night after their general membership meeting, they turned quickly to the work ahead: stapling signs that read “ON STRIKE!” to wooden stakes.
But don’t call it a foregone conclusion. The sentiment from the Evergreen Education Association’s membership was clear: the district’s current salary offer will not be enough to get them back into the classroom.
And by a vote of 95.9 percent, Evergreen Public Schools teachers become the latest to announce a strike in light of ongoing heated bargaining sessions. The district, Clark County’s largest at about 26,000 students, remains at odds with the union over how much to pay teachers after the Legislature allocated more money to pay for basic education, including teacher salaries.
As of press time, the union had counted 1,318 votes. Evergreen Education Association President Bill Beville said that’s the largest turnout the union has had for a meeting in one room.
“Because of the size of the vote, the district needs to take that as a signal that the teachers are completely on board with this,” Beville said.
Evergreen Public Schools officials called the vote “disappointing” given the union’s current contract lasts through the end of the 2018-2019 school year. The district also maintained, despite allegations by union members that the district is withholding funds, that all available funds are being allocated toward teacher salaries.
“We are passing through all the state and court-mandated funding allocated for teacher salaries, plus adding a higher percentage out of our remaining local levy funds than other agreements reached across the state,” the district said in a statement Thursday night. “We are passing through all the state and court-mandated funding allocated for teacher salaries, plus adding a higher percentage out of our remaining local levy funds than other agreements reached across the state.”
As the union voted, the school board was meeting around the block for its 2018-2019 budget hearing. Before a room empty but for district staff and a Columbian reporter, the district unanimously approved its 2018-2019 budget, which includes $368,794,502 in general fund expenditures. Of that, $167,555,953 is designated for certified employee — including teachers — salaries.
District staff called the budget the most sustainable option as school funding mechanisms are shifting in the state of Washington.
“This is the best budget we can give to you,” Superintendent John Steach said.
The school board also unanimously approved a resolution giving the district broad authority to respond to a teacher strike, including taking legal action in order to stop the strike.
The resolution also allows the district to suspend health insurance premiums for employees involved in a strike, and it limits access to public school campuses to law enforcement, students, district staff who are not on strike and “other persons whose presence on the school property … is deemed necessary or desirable by the superintendent of the district.”
In summing up the resolution, Steach said it would “give me the flexibility in this potential emergency situation to be able to do what is necessary to protect the assets of the district and respond to whatever situations happen to arise during a potential work stoppage.
“This is an agenda item I wish we didn’t have tonight,” he said.
Meanwhile, negotiations will continue between the district’s bargaining team and the union with the assistance of a state-appointed mediator. Evergreen Public Schools’ latest proposal would offer teachers a salary range of $50,687 for new teachers with bachelor’s degrees to $96,045 for the most educated, experienced teachers. The EEA’s salary scale includes three fewer work days than the district’s, and gives teacher a salary range of $57,288 to $97,764.
Evergreen’s vote is the most recent in a contentious summer of union negotiations in light of school funding legislation. With it, the district becomes the sixth in Clark County to support going on strike, joining teachers in Vancouver, Battle Ground, Washougal, Hockinson and Ridgefield. Camas teachers are set to vote on a possible strike on Monday.
Locally, only one school district has settled a new salary schedule: Woodland Public Schools. The district and its union came to an agreement earlier this month to give teachers a 22.82 percent raise on their base salary. The decision brings teacher salaries between $46,600 a year for new teachers to $87,832 a year for the district’s most experienced teachers.
Teacher unions and school districts across Washington are negotiating new salary schedules for teachers after school funding legislation approved to address the 2012 McCleary decision, a state Supreme Court case which 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.