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Vancouver teachers overwhelmingly ratify new contract; school starts Wednesday

By , Columbian Education Reporter
5 Photos
School nurse Marcia Schneider, right, shows her enthusiasm for the new contract after voting with fellow members of the Vancouver Education Association at Skyview High School on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 4, 2018.
School nurse Marcia Schneider, right, shows her enthusiasm for the new contract after voting with fellow members of the Vancouver Education Association at Skyview High School on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 4, 2018. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Vancouver Education Association voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to approve a contract that includes higher wages for teachers and schedule changes for students.

That clears the way for the 24,000 students in Vancouver Public Schools, Clark County’s second largest school district, to return to class Wednesday, a week after originally planned.

By a vote of 92.4 percent at Skyview High School, members approved the three-year contract. The contract includes raises of about 12.5 percent in the first year, as well as pay for four optional work days. That puts the district’s salary range for teachers who work all four days between $50,413 for a brand new teacher to $95,019 for a teacher with a master’s degree, 90 credits of continuing education and 16 years experience.

In the following years, teachers will see inflationary raises that reflect cost of living — roughly 2 percent.

The contract also makes every Monday an early-release day. All schools in the district will let out 40 minutes early, giving teachers time in the afternoon to collaborate and plan. The first early-release day is Monday.

Vancouver Education Association President Rick Wilson called the vote count “historic.”

“We didn’t leave any money at the table,” he said.

The agreement, which was announced Sunday night, ends three days of teacher strikes in the west Clark County district. Teachers in Evergreen Public Schools, Battle Ground Public Schools and the Washougal School District remain on strike.

It’s unclear what, in the long run, this deal could cost the district. Superintendent Steve Webb said in a district statement there will be “need for significant belt-tightening measures” as local levy revenues drop as a part of the McCleary legislation intended to improve school funding.

Any necessary cuts will not be made this year, district spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said. In the following years, however, the district could see programs or staff cuts to cover the cost of the contract.

The district and union leaders have pointed to inequities in the McCleary legislation they say will leave districts in Southwest Washington with fewer dollars than their Puget Sound-area counterparts. Districts in Southwest Washington that heavily depend on local revenue will see their levy rates cut in half next year. Webb, in the district announcement, said the district will advocate for legislative changes to “ensure more equitable funding” in local school districts.

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said last week that those who have criticized the McCleary legislation are “not wrong.”

“We hope we can make some adjustments in those funding formulas to balance those out,” Stonier said.

Teachers celebrated with leveled optimism following the vote, though many declined to be interviewed by reporters huddling in the school’s courtyard.

“Whoo! Back to school!” a woman said at about 12:15 p.m., clapping and cheering as she left the school before official results were announced.

“Let’s go back to school!” another woman shouted through a megaphone before saying that it wasn’t an official announcement.

Lindsey Garcia, a teacher on special assignment, said the deal was “not perfect” but that it was a step in the right direction.

“It just makes me feel a little more valued as a professional,” she said.

Garcia added that she’d rather be back in the classroom, but she said teachers built bonds on the picket lines that helped ease the stress.

“Supporting each other on the picket line was the next best thing.”

Columbian Education Reporter

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