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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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School across Clark County canceled as negotiations stall

Multiple districts can’t get back to negotiating with unions because mediators aren’t available

By , Columbian Education Reporter, and
, Columbian Staff Writer

With strikes going on in six Clark County school districts, union bargaining teams and districts are continuing to negotiate. Or, at least trying to.

As more strikes start, and scheduled first days near elsewhere in the state, resources are limited, especially when it comes to state mediators. Hockinson teachers couldn’t reach a deal by Tuesday, so their strike started Wednesday. They couldn’t get a mediator to come for a bargaining session on Wednesday, so Hockinson canceled two days of school.

In Ridgefield, the mediator working with the district was in Longview on Wednesday. The union, district and mediator couldn’t agree on another day to meet until Saturday, so classes are canceled the rest of the week in Ridgefield.

Battle Ground Public Schools also canceled school for the rest of the week and did not negotiate on Wednesday because the full bargaining team was not available. More negotiations are scheduled for Thursday, however.

Evergreen Public Schools also did not negotiate Wednesday. Evergreen Education Association President Bill Beville said the mediator got caught up in Centralia.

Elsewhere in Clark County, Camas teachers and district officials are scheduled to return to the bargaining table Thursday morning with a state mediator. Camas teachers voted to approve a strike Monday night, and have until the scheduled first day of classes, Sept. 4, to work out a new deal.

Mike Sellars, executive director of the Public Employment Relations Commission, said there have been 27 requests for a mediator since July 1, and 20 of those cases are still open. Since 2010, the most requests the commission received for mediation on summer teacher disputes was eight, which came in 2015. In a full year, the most requests the commission has received was 17, also in 2015.

Sellars said there are 18 mediators working out in the field right now, and all other non-teacher-related disputes are on hold. He also expects more requests to come in as more school districts near starting dates.

“It’s a juggling act,” Sellars said.

There were, for a few hours, rumors Vancouver Public Schools would be filing an injunction to stop the strike following a flurry of Facebook posts by the Vancouver Education Association saying there would be a court hearing.

But district spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said the district never took steps toward court action, and doesn’t have immediate plans to do so.

“There was never an injunction,” Nuzzo said. “There was never an injunction and there won’t be one filed.”

VEA Executive Director Rick Wilson, however, said the district’s attorney and the union’s attorney had been in communication regarding a possible court hearing Thursday. Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said the same.

Hundreds file support

The union encouraged people to come to its office to file declarations “stating that their child will not suffer irreparable harm by an educator work stoppage.” More than 900 did so, according to the union’s Facebook page, prompting the union to take credit for stopping the rumored court action.

“The Vancouver Education Association believes this has everything to do with our strength and unity and the support we have received from our parents and community,” the union posted.

When asked about the affidavits, Nuzzo said, “I don’t know what that all is.”

Columbian Education Reporter
Columbian Staff Writer