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Aug. 9, 2022

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Vancouver Public Schools requests help from state mediator

Contract negotiations with classified employee union are stalled

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
4 Photos
Terri Sadowski, left, and Merritt Hitzeman-Anzjon, right, both paraeducators at Hudson's Bay High School, pick up signs reading, “I Support Classified Staff," before a Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals general membership meeting at Roosevelt Elementary School in Vancouver on Tuesday. Vancouver Public Schools announced it was requesting guidance from professional mediators in negotiations with the union.
Terri Sadowski, left, and Merritt Hitzeman-Anzjon, right, both paraeducators at Hudson's Bay High School, pick up signs reading, “I Support Classified Staff," before a Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals general membership meeting at Roosevelt Elementary School in Vancouver on Tuesday. Vancouver Public Schools announced it was requesting guidance from professional mediators in negotiations with the union. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Vancouver Public Schools on Tuesday requested help from a state mediator to help in stalled contract negotiations with one of its classified employee unions.

The Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals, the union representing paraprofessionals, secretaries, clerks and other classified staff, is in the midst of negotiations with Vancouver Public Schools.

The issues in these negotiations mirror those teachers faced earlier this year: the union says the district is withholding millions of dollars allocated to employees under the new state school funding model, while the district says meeting the union’s demands will contribute to a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

“The VPS bargaining team conveyed our interest in seeking mediation assistance to VAESP leaders (Tuesday) afternoon at the bargaining table,” Superintendent Steve Webb wrote in a message to parents. “Our decision was based on the number of unresolved proposals; the gap between VPS and VAESP’s interests, especially on salary improvements; and the district’s financial position, which would require significant budget reductions and the loss of many employee positions to pay for VAESP’s desired contract provisions.”

This puts a pause on bargaining while the district and union wait for a mediator to be available. Bargaining sessions were scheduled for next week, but it’s unclear if they will happen.

“We’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode,” said Lynn Davidson, UniServ director for Washington Education Association Riverside, the regional office of the state teachers union. WEA-Riverside is assisting in negotiations between the district and the union.

In response to the mediation request, Davidson said, “I don’t know that in the end, it’s a bad thing,” but added “it’s unfortunate they’re not doing the work they need to do to settle this on their own.”

Parties at odds over raises

The union is pushing for 20- to 25-percent salary increases, depending on the employee’s position and years of experience. The proposal would cost $5.52 million, according to the district.

Salaries for VAESP members range depending on position and years of experience. Secretaries, for example, make between $20.59 an hour for those who are new, up to $24.77 for those who have 25 years of experience or more. Special education paraeducator salaries range from $17.03 at the low end, to $20.71 at the high end. The union has 716 members.

“It’s going to be a hard push to get the salary that these people deserve,” Davidson said.

Vancouver Public Schools’ latest proposal would give classified staff a 6.6 percent raise in the 2018-2019 school year and a 1.9 percent raise in the 2019-2020 school year, for a total raise of 8.5 percent over two years. That proposal would cost the district $1.5 million this year, and $525,000 in 2019-2020.

Evergreen Public Schools’ classified employee unions did not open their contracts this year. Battle Ground settled with the union representing clerks, secretaries, paraeducators and other education support professionals in August. Members of the Public School Employees of Battle Ground received raises of 6 percent for the current school year, 3 percent for the 2019-2020 school year and another 3 percent in 2020-21.

Just as it did during the Vancouver Education Association negotiations that led to a week of teacher strikes this summer, Vancouver Public Schools points to reductions in local levy funding as one of the coming roadblocks for the district.

While the district received an influx of revenue due to increased state property taxes under the McCleary school funding legislation, next year’s local levy rates will be capped at a lower rate, reducing local tax revenue for the district’s $330 million general fund by about $8 million, according to the district’s four-year budget projection.

The district expects to have $324 million in general fund revenue next year, which will then increase to $335 million by 2021-2022.

Still, the district claims it faces a $9.1 million budget shortfall in the 2019-2020 school year as a result of the raises given to district teachers this year. VPS’ latest proposal would add another $200,000 to that for a $9.3 million budget shortfall, according to the district website.

In a message sent to parents last week, Webb said the district anticipates it will need to cut teacher positions, central administrative services and spend down the district’s ending fund balance to address the projected budget shortfall.

“Any additional compensation improvements for VAESP beyond the sustainable resources provided under the McCleary levy swap must come from deeper cuts,” Webb wrote.

Negotiations have been ongoing since May 24, with a brief break as the district was negotiating with the Vancouver Education Association in August and September. According to the district, the two sides have exchanged about 70 proposals.

Columbian Education Reporter

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