The Camas School District and Camas Education Association could be in for a tense August after their most recent bargaining session left the two sides in disagreement, with union officials saying they’re prepared for a strike on Aug. 27 if negotiations haven’t progressed.
The district and union met Wednesday for a bargaining session to discuss teacher salaries, but Mark Gardner, Camas Education Association lead negotiator and past president, said it was “disheartening” meeting. This was their third bargaining session, and first one where the union could see a counter offer from the district. Another meeting is tentatively scheduled for early August.
“It was underwhelming,” Gardner said. “We went in with higher expectations than what we were met with.”
He declined to get into specifics, but said the offer was essentially a “freeze from the 2017-2018 to next year” with few teachers seeing raises.
Camas is just one of many county and state unions embroiled in heated negotiations with school districts this summer. The Washougal Association of Educators went vocal with issues in their negotiating process recently, and previously voted to give the bargaining team permission to call a strike vote if things don’t improve.
The Evergreen Education Association threatened a strike vote in August if a “reasonable and appropriate salary scale” isn’t set.
Districts and unions throughout the state are re-working pay scales because of the McCleary decision, a Supreme Court case that determined Washington was failing to fully fund basic education. After allocating $7.3 billion to the state school system last year, the Legislature this year added nearly another $1 billion for teacher salaries.
The district and union are both navigating the new funding source in its first year, which has created some confusion and tension.
“We’re just still in the process right now, given the new funding model, there’s a lot of variables to work through,” Camas Superintendent Jeff Snell said. “That makes it pretty challenging, as evident by all the districts and union groups looking to find their way right now.”
One issue between the sides is whether or not there is a cap on how much of a raise teachers can receive this year. Gardner said the year was originally marked as a “transition year” that would put a 3.1 percent cap on raises, but the upcoming year is no longer being considered a transition year. He thinks the district is still operating under that assumption.
“They believe that went away. We haven’t been definitely told that went away,” Snell said. “We’re hoping to get some direction on that. You have a new law, so it’s naive of me to think it’s going to be all clear in the first year.”
Snell said the district is also being cautious with the new funding model because while it provides more state money coming in for salaries, it limits how much local money the district can bring in.
He added that the district will do everything it can to avoid a strike, and he wants his teachers to feel valuable and supported. Gardner said the union and district have an “unusual and collaborative relationship,” which is why he is personally surprised how negotiations have gone so far. He said he hopes they can continue to have such a positive relationship after negotiations.
“I want us to have kids arrive on the first day of school after Labor Day,” he said. “Everyone in my association wants that. We do not want a strike. Our purpose is to serve kids. We recognize that can be disruptive, but we also recognize that it’s an action that might need to be taken. Given the choice between the classroom and picket line, I’d much rather be in the classroom.”