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Feb. 25, 2024

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County schools, teachers reach critical week

Negotiations between unions, districts continue with first bell days away

By , Columbian Education Reporter, and
, Columbian Staff Writer
Published:

It’s been a summer of debate between area school districts and their teacher unions. This week, those debates will turn to actions.

Nearly every teachers union in Clark County has voted to strike unless pay raises are enacted by the opening day of school, most of which fall on either Tuesday or Wednesday.

Unions and school districts across Washington are negotiating new salary schedules for teachers after the Legislature addressed the 2012 McCleary decision. Last year, the Legislature approved $7.3 billion in allocations to schools over four years, and this year added another nearly $1 billion for teacher salaries, meeting the Supreme Court’s order to fully fund basic education.

In Southwest Washington, teachers are fighting for double-digit raises they say are long overdue. Districts are pushing back, saying they can’t afford to sustain pay scales at the level teachers want due to the state’s formula for funding schools.

Unless the impasse is resolved, as many as 80,000 students in kindergarten through the 12th grade will take an extended summer vacation.

So far, only Woodland schools have reached a contract with the teachers union.

With the exception of La Center, where both sides have kept negotiations under wraps, here’s the latest on contract negotiations in Clark County districts:

Evergreen Public Schools

Negotiations between Clark County’s largest school district and the union will continue 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 Evergreen Education Association’s proposed salary scale includes three fewer work days than the district’s, and gives teachers a salary range of $57,288 to $97,764.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, teachers in the Evergreen district averaged $71,831 in salary last year.

The Evergreen Education Association is the most recent to vote to strike, with 95.9 percent of teachers voting to support the work stoppage Thursday. Evergreen Public Schools has hinted at possible legal action, authorizing the hiring of a law firm to try to stop a work stoppage. The district did the same thing two years ago.

A negotiation session is set for today. The first day of school is scheduled for Tuesday.

Vancouver Public Schools

The Vancouver Education Association’s most recent proposal would give teachers a salary range of $51,520 for new teachers to $96,768 for the most experienced teachers. The district estimates that the proposal would cost the district an additional $22.3 million over the 2017-2018 budget.

The district, meanwhile, has proposed a three-year, stepped increase, raising the salary range to $47,663 to $92,440 in 2018-2019, increasing to $51,254 to $99,406 in 2020-2021.

The average salary in the district last year was $67,356, according to OSPI.

The Vancouver Education Association was one of the first districts to approve a teacher strike, voting Monday by a rate of 92.7 percent to declare a work stoppage if a deal is not in place by the first day of school.

Vancouver Public Schools is unique in that its contract with the VEA union has fully expired. While most unions have only reopened their contracts to negotiate salaries, Vancouver must also negotiate professional development, planning time and class sizes.

“Both VEA and VPS continue to bargain in good faith despite the hard realities of the state Legislature’s funding ‘fix’ for public schools,” district officials said in a statement Friday. “The complex and inequitable funding system adopted by the Legislature in response to the McCleary lawsuit is making the process of bargaining teacher contracts exceptionally difficult for districts throughout the state.”

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The union is scheduled to negotiate over the weekend. The district on Friday announced it would request support from a state mediator.

The first day of school is scheduled for Wednesday.

Battle Ground Public Schools

The Battle Ground Education Association’s latest proposal would result in average total salaries of $86,760 — a 30.1 percent increase from last year.

Battle Ground’s offer, meanwhile, would provide average salaries of $72,760, a 9.1 percent pay increase. The district’s proposal would give a pay range of $46,599 for new teachers to $90,154 for the most experienced, educated teachers.

Over the 2017-2018 school year, Battle Ground teachers averaged a salary of $68,476.

On Wednesday union teachers voted 682 to 11 to strike — the highest rate by which any union has approved a strike vote thus far.

The sides are scheduled to negotiate today. The first day of school is scheduled for Wednesday.

Camas School District

In Camas, the union’s bargaining team was directed to have an agreement ready for members to vote on by Monday night’s meeting. If there isn’t one, union members are expected to hold a strike vote. Camas is the last district scheduled to return to class, as school doesn’t start until Sept. 4.

The union and district are scheduled to meet today for a bargaining session.

According to information from the district, the district’s latest two-year proposal would make the average salary for a teacher in the district $78,803 in 2018-19 and $80,632 in the following year. The first-year salary ranges from $48,866 to $92,104, and from $50,000 to $94,242 in year two. Currently, the average salary for teachers in the district is $74,553, with a salary range of $46,558 to $86,869.

Washougal School District

Teachers in Washougal voted to approve a strike at a meeting on Tuesday, with 96 percent of members in attendance voting in favor. The first day of school is scheduled for Tuesday.

The union and district held a bargaining session Friday, and it appears that there was some disagreement. The district posted a letter home to families on Thursday about bargaining and the potential strike. Included in the letter was a graphic that said the district’s offer was for an average salary of $72,278 with a salary range of $50,000 to $94,000. The union posted a message on Facebook Friday afternoon saying that the bargaining team hasn’t seen that offer in writing. The latest offer the bargaining team had seen was for an average salary of $70,325, according to the Facebook post.

That offer would give teachers a 26 percent increase in base salary and a 15.5 percent increase in their overall compensation package.

Ridgefield School District

Bargaining in Ridgefield is going to go on until the day before school. Classes are scheduled to start Wednesday, and the union and district only have one more bargaining sessions planned, on Tuesday. The two sides met Friday, but Alan Adams, president-elect of the union, wrote in an email that it was short meeting with “limited movement.”

Ridgefield teachers were the first in the county to vote for a strike, with 97.8 percent of voters in attendance of an Aug. 17 meeting voting in favor. The two sides are working on a new full contract for teachers, and are also bargaining on issues such as class sizes, case loads and staffing in the special education program and a guaranteed voice in the curriculum adoption process.

The district’s latest offer would see the average salary for a teacher in Ridgefield move up to $73,302, a 15.04 percent increase from the year prior, according to information from the district. A post on the union’s Facebook page disputes that number, saying it’s closer to a 12.8 percent increase. The salary range in the latest offer from the district goes from $47,715 to $91,855.

Hockinson School District

Teachers in Hockinson are also bargaining for a new full contract, and in addition to salary, the two sides are discussing class size and support language for the special education program. At a meeting on Aug. 17, 97 percent of members present voted to approve a strike. The first day of school in the district is scheduled for Wednesday.

The two sides are scheduled for bargaining today and Monday, which could result in a “marathon bargain,” according to Megan Miles, co-president of the union.

According to information sent out from the district, the latest offer is an 8 percent increase for a total average compensation of $74,463. The salary range would be $46,552 to $87,845.

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Columbian Education Reporter
Columbian Staff Writer