BATTLE GROUND — Strikes continued for a third day in Clark County, as teachers from six districts continued to picket in favor of higher wages.
Meanwhile, bargaining teams pushed on in an effort to settle salary increases in light of new school funding legislation in the state.
But with all striking districts announcing school closures through Friday, negotiators are prepared for bargaining to continue into the Labor Day weekend.
In Battle Ground, teachers gathered along busy highways, jumping and laughing as drivers in tractor-trailers blasted their horns and waved. Teachers from Captain Strong Primary School, Chief Umtuch Middle School and CAM Academy gathered at the intersection of Northwest Onsdorff Boulevard and Northwest 10th Avenue. Spirits remained high despite teachers feeling exhausted. They danced and waved at passing cars, trying to see who could get the most waves and honks.
“Two points for a red car!” a teacher yelled. Teachers across the state and county wear red T-shirts to show their union support.
Linda Peterson, president of the Battle Ground Education Association, said the Washington Education Association gave a financial presentation to both the union and the district for four hours on Thursday. But negotiations in that district, however, seem no closer than they were earlier this week, she said. The next bargaining session in Battle Ground is Sunday.
“We are disappointed,” she said, noting the district’s attorney isn’t available until that day, which is why bargaining is delayed. The union is already making demonstration plans for Tuesday.
Added Peterson, “our members’ engagement and energy is so powerful.”
Battle Ground Public Schools estimates it has an additional permanent $3,650,832 to allocate toward teacher salaries, according to data provided by the district. It estimates the Battle Ground Education Association’s proposed salary model would cost the district $13,982,529. That’s a $10,331,697 gap.
But Candy Herrera, a Washington Education Association staff member working with the Battle Ground union, disputed that number, saying they expect the district to see an additional $9.5 million in funding this year for salaries.
Why are the numbers so far apart? Herrera believes the district is budgeting for “all these costs that historically never happen.”
“They feel like it’s their job to obfuscate,” she said.
The district, like others in Clark County, maintains it’s pushing all available dollars out toward teacher salaries. The district’s proposal would give teachers an average salary of $72,760. The union’s would give teachers an average of $85,395.
Meanwhile, the district announced Thursday that it had reached a three-year contract agreement with a union representing its more than 570 classified employees, including custodial and maintenance staff, paraeducators, special education assistants and secretaries.
The district approved a 6 percent salary increase in 2018-2019; 3 percent increase in 2019-2020 and a 3 percent increase in 2020-2021. Salaries for those staff members ranged last year from $13.21 an hour to $35.86 an hour, depending on classification and years of experience.
Marc Caughie and Ruth Mills, both of whom have been teaching for about two decades, picketed together Thursday. The pair teach at CAM Academy, the district’s alternative learning program.
“We just want to get back in the classroom,” said a tired sounding Caughie, who teaches third grade. Classes in Battle Ground were supposed to start Wednesday and, at this rate, no first day is on the horizon for the district.
Mills is a sixth-grade teacher at the school. She said it’s time teachers receive the pay they deserve.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity to reverse the social attitude toward the vocation of teachers,” she said.