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News / Clark County News

Washougal teachers unanimously ratify contract; school begins Friday

Pact leaves only Battle Ground, Evergreen teachers out on strike

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: September 6, 2018, 10:51am
7 Photos
Eric Engebretson, president of the Washougal Association of Teachers, right, celebrates with fellow educators outside Washougal High School after the union unanimously ratified their new contract Thursday morning, Sept. 6, 2018.
Eric Engebretson, president of the Washougal Association of Teachers, right, celebrates with fellow educators outside Washougal High School after the union unanimously ratified their new contract Thursday morning, Sept. 6, 2018. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

WASHOUGAL — A loud “Washougal” chant broke out in front of Washougal High School on Thursday afternoon following word that the teachers union had voted unanimously to approve a new contract, ending their strike that started Aug. 28.

Between hugs and high-fives, Eric Engebretson, president of the Washougal Association of Educators, yelled to his colleagues, “Let’s get back to work!” to loud applause. As teachers drove from the parking lot, many to go set up their classrooms for Friday’s first day of classes, they honked and waved.

All of the 199 members present voted in favor of the deal. Engebretson said there are roughly 205 members in the union.

“We landed on an agreement that everybody is happy with,” Superintendent Mary Templeton said. “It’s an agreement we can sustain over time. The 100 percent vote means we got it right. We all are now signaling that we’re ready to start getting school off the ground.”

The ratification leaves only teachers in Evergreen and Battle Ground on strike. Washougal joins teachers in Vancouver, Ridgefield and Hockinson to end their strike, and teachers in Camas who voted to approve a strike but reached an agreement before it began.

The contract provides an 18 percent increase in total compensation in year one for teachers and another roughly 5 percent raise in the second year, with a salary range of $51,434 to $96,944 in the first year and $53,005 to $99,906 in the second. The teachers will see a 23.2 percent increase in total compensation in the two-year deal.

The deal also lowers the class size cap in K-3 and grades 4-5, and makes it more difficult to do split classes, where teachers have half of a class in one grade and half in another. The new deal adds para-educator hours to help with split classes  as well as additional time for training and development of the curriculum for teachers who end up with split classes.

While the deal doesn’t eliminate split classes, as the union was hoping for, there aren’t any split classes scheduled in the district this year, Engebretson said. Templeton said there weren’t any split classes in the district last year, either.

“It’s a move in the right direction,” Engebretson said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s stronger.”

When the strike started, the district announced that if it lasted longer than four days, Washougal High School’s graduation might have to switch dates. The district announced Wednesday night that graduation will remain on its original date of June 8, 2019. Templeton said Wednesday night that to help keep graduation on that date, the district might have to find some additional time for seniors to get in hours to help them certify their graduation.

The district on Thursday afternoon posted on Facebook that the new calendar for the school year changes Oct. 12 from an in-service day to a regular day, and built-in snow days on Feb. 15 and March 15 will now be regular days. Four days will be added onto the end of the school year: June 12, 13, 14 and 17. The district’s statement also warns parents to not make plans for the week of June 17, as the school calendar now has no snow days built in.

“In an average year, we use at least two additional days,” the district’s statement reads. Two winters ago, the school district canceled 10 days due to snow.

Teacher reaction

It was an emotional day for Washougal teachers on Thursday.

“I cried,” Rochelle Quested, a Spanish teacher at the high school, said when she saw the agreement. “I feel like the district office finally recognized our value.”

Teachers in the district have felt underpaid for years, and they felt like that was the cause of high turnover in the district. While marching during the strike, teachers held up signs that read “turnovers are for breakfast, not teachers.” On the first day of the strike, Quested said she would’ve made more than $9,700 additional last year at Camas High School for the same position.

“They kept us so far lower for so long,” she said. “I can go get my car fixed.”

Jay Bennett, who helped the bargaining team work through numbers in the agreement, said Washougal is a small city where everyone feels close.

“This isn’t just a job,” he said. “It’s a part of our life. We all go to the football games Friday nights because there’s not much else to do. We’re a family. When I was at graduation in June, it wasn’t just me watching my son, or even my students. It was watching kids I coached in T-ball.”

Bennett was proud the contract spread money around to teachers of varying levels of experience. He said other districts took some money from the middle to increase the salary range extremes to make the new numbers look more impressive.

“Our top number is not as high as some other places,” he said. “We didn’t take money from some teachers to give to others.”

He and others celebrating on Thursday were also happy the district’s salary scale is now closer to neighboring Camas, and even ahead of Camas for many teachers this upcoming school year.

“We won’t be constantly losing teachers,” Quested  said. “This feels like a new era.”

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Columbian Staff Writer