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Jan. 29, 2023

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Camas, Hockinson, Ridgefield teachers applaud contracts

Union members eager to get to work

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
5 Photos
Cory Marshall, Camas High School teacher, left, and Alisa Wise, Camas High School math teacher, react following the Camas Education Association’s unanimous vote to ratify a new salary schedule for teachers. The vote allows school to start on time in Camas, and avoids a teacher strike.
Cory Marshall, Camas High School teacher, left, and Alisa Wise, Camas High School math teacher, react following the Camas Education Association’s unanimous vote to ratify a new salary schedule for teachers. The vote allows school to start on time in Camas, and avoids a teacher strike. Nathan Howard/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Whether due to excitement or nerves, plenty of people have trouble going to sleep the night before the first day of school.

Shelley Houle didn’t expect to have that problem Monday night.

“I haven’t slept in a week,” said Houle, president of the Camas Education Association.

While tired, Houle was feeling quite upbeat Monday night after the teachers union voted unanimously to ratify a new salary schedule for teachers. There were 391 of the union’s roughly 450 members present for the vote, which helped Camas teachers avoid a strike and will allow the first day of school to start Tuesday, the scheduled first day of classes in the district.

While Camas avoided a strike Monday night, two of the county’s six strikes ended, as teachers in Ridgefield and Hockinson also voted to ratify new contract agreements. Teachers in Vancouver will hold a ratification vote on a tentative agreement today , while bargaining continued late into Monday night in Evergreen, Battle Ground and Washougal.

Districts around the state have spent the summer bargaining for new deals thanks to two years of McCleary legislation. The Legislature allocated $7.3 billion over four years toward basic education during the 2017 session, then put another $1 billion toward teacher salaries this year.

Here’s a look at each district’s new deal, and how they got there:

Camas

The Camas Education Association was heading into the second year of a three-year collective bargaining agreement, so the union and district were just bargaining for a new salary schedule. With the new two-year schedule, teachers in Camas will see an average 12.5 percent increase in their total compensation. The new salary range for this school year will run from $50,727 to $97,529, and from $52,868 to $100,110 for the 2019-2020 school year. The salary range in the district last school year went from $46,420 to $86,609 in total compensation.

“We wanted to capture as much of that McCleary money in the first year,” Houle said. “That’s when the influx of money is coming in.”

Houle credited the district with coming up with an idea for a longevity stipend, which will pay an additional $1,700 to $2,750 a year to teachers with 15 or 16 years of experience, depending on education. The stipend is open to teachers with that experience in Washington state, not just in the Camas School District. She said the stipend is a way to retain experienced teachers and attract others to the district.

“Our average teacher salary was very high for Clark County because we have an experienced staff who have stayed with us for a long time,” Superintendent Jeff Snell said. “That’s great, but it also made it challenging to get to the percentage increases we were seeing across the state. We had to be creative.”

Houle said she spent the week thinking it was “50-50” if the two sides would get a deal done in time for the start of school. Because of language agreed upon by union members earlier in the process, she knew they just needed a tentative agreement in place to start school, so even if the sides bargained up until the day before classes were scheduled to start, that wouldn’t delay the school year. Houle was thankful the two sides didn’t need the last day to bargain, and judging by the reaction she’s received since the agreement was announced, the community agreed.

“Parents are happier than the kids,” she said, adding that people have sent her videos of fireworks being launched and barbecues breaking out into applause once the news was released.

She also said that if an agreement didn’t happen, the union was prepared to strike. They had signs made up and ready, and, according to a post on the union’s Facebook page, they are sending those signs up north to unions in Tacoma and Puyallup.

“We had everything in motion,” Houle said. “Nobody is let down we don’t get to execute those plans.”

Hockinson

As teachers filed out of Hockinson High School’s auditorium Monday afternoon after ratifying their new contract, some were elated.

“We get to start tomorrow,” one teacher said walking to her car. “Yay!”

Others were simply relieved.

“Hallelujah,” another teacher said as she took a deep breath.

Teachers in Hockinson also unanimously voted to approve their tentative agreement, with 98 of the union’s 117 members present for the vote.

The two-year deal sees a 14.5 percent increase in total compensation for teachers this upcoming school year, with a salary range of $49,578 to $93,445. The deal includes a 2 percent increase in the 2019-2020 school year, which gives teachers an overall 16.5 percent increase from the 2017-2018 school year.

“We’re confident we were able to get all money sent to the district for us in the McCleary decision,” said Corey McEnry, co-president of the union.

The union and district were also working on a full contract instead of a new salary schedule, and the two sides also bargained for lower K-5 class sizes, decreased caseload for teachers in the special education program and guaranteed paraeducator support for all special education teachers.

“They are a huge support for our special education teachers,” said Megan Miles, co-president of the teachers union.

Hockinson announced its settlement at about midnight Sunday. It followed days of marathon sessions between the district and the Hockinson Education Association. McEnry estimated that the two sides spent about 80 hours at the bargaining table in the last week.

Miles said negotiations were slow moving until a few days ago, and around 9 p.m. Sunday, the union felt like they were heading toward an agreement. They thought they might be the first to announce a tentative agreement, but were beat out by Camas and Vancouver.

McEnry praised the union and district for their bargaining, and how it remained “professional and civil.” Miles said the two sides left the bargaining table at 2 a.m. Monday with an agreement, and agreed to post a picture on Facebook with district and union leaders to show both sides were in good spirits.

Both McEnry and Miles also praised the Hockinson community for their support during the strike, with people coming out to join the picket line and making sure the bargaining team was well-fed. McEnry joked that he gained weight during negotiations with all the food brought to the team, while most other teachers lost weight from all the picketing.

“Strong schools respect their teachers, and create strong communities,” Miles said.

Ridgefield

Negotiations ran so late in Ridgefield that when the school year starts today, it will be less than 30 hours from when the district and Ridgefield Education Association reached a tentative agreement, one that nearly fell apart in the final hour.

The two sides were bargaining until about 3 a.m. Monday, when the union walked away from the table, posting a message on Facebook saying that the bargaining team couldn’t accept an offer without “modest class size reductions over three years.” According to the post, the district didn’t agree to that. After the two sides split, Superintendent Nathan McCann called Joe Thayer, outgoing teachers union president. The two sides spent the next hour finishing off their agreement over the phone, and they made the announcement around 4 a.m. Monday.

“We’ve got more than 3,200 kids ready to walk through our buildings,” McCann said. “We weren’t going to miss any more school. I was determined, and so was Joe Thayer, because he took that phone call.”

The two sides in Ridgefield were negotiating a full contract as opposed to just a salary schedule. The three-year deal gives teachers a 16 percent increase in total compensation this year, then 5 percent increases in years two and three. The salary range for year one will be $48,346 to $95,788, $49,546 to $98,165 in year two and $50,774 to $100,598 in year three. By the third year of the contract, teachers will see an overall 26 percent increase in total compensation from where the salary schedule was this past school year.

The average teacher compensation in the district was $63,718 for the 2017-2018 school year. The average compensation in the new deal will be $74,066 in year one, $77,159.14 in year two and $80,323.48 in year three.

“This has been a real victory for our teachers,” said Alan Adams, president of Ridgefield teachers union. “Teachers across the board are seeing significant raises.”

The deal was approved by 87.1 percent of the 165 members present for the vote.

The two sides also bargained for an average class size of 31 in middle and high school with a cap of 35 students per class in each. There were also some class size reduction agreements in the elementary schools, Adams said.

Teachers will have a “strong voice” in choosing curriculum going forward with the new deal, Adams said. More language was added to contracts for smaller caseloads in the district’s special education program, as well.

“They challenged us and asked if we prioritize teachers,” McCann said. “The teacher is the most important element in a school system.”

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Columbian Staff Writer