A summer of heated negotiations over teacher salaries in Southwest Washington is, at last, over.
Battle Ground Public Schools’ teachers on Sunday morning voted by an overwhelming margin of 99 percent to ratify a two-year contract, ending the state’s longest teacher strike thus far this year. In the packed Battle Ground High School gym, 687 certificated staff voted in favor of the contract, while six voted against it.
“We are really excited to have students back in class (today) and have the challenges behind us,” said Rita Sanders, spokeswoman for the district.
New teachers in the district with no experience will start at an annual salary of $48,593, while their most experienced and educated peers will top out at $93,731. The second year, salaries will be adjusted for inflation.
Battle Ground was the last district in the region whose teachers remained on strike. The end of their 12-day work stoppage means all of Clark County’s 80,000 students will, as of today, be back in the classroom. Now, only Tumwater School District’s teachers remain on the picket lines.
“They had the resolve,” Battle Ground Education Association President Linda Peterson said of the union’s members. “They were not going to give up the work stoppage until they saw all the McCleary money.”
This year’s contract battles stemmed from new dollars allocated toward education by the Washington Legislature. To comply with the 2012 McCleary Supreme Court decision, which deemed the state was failing to fully fund basic education, legislators last year allocated an additional $7.3 billion toward public schools over four years. This year, the state added another $1 billion to that for teacher compensation.
At one point, six districts in Clark County were striking concurrently, but in the last two weeks, districts in the region have settled on significant pay increases with their unions. Peterson said she couldn’t specify what the average percent increase is for teachers in the district.
“This means that I will not be in the red every month,” said Chrystal Anderson, a kindergarten teacher at Yacolt Primary School. “This means I can start looking at going back and getting my master’s degree.”
Sunday’s vote closed two whirlwind days of bargaining action for the district. Friday morning, Clark County Superior Court Judge Scott Collier issued an injunction ordering teachers back to work. That evening, teachers voted to ignore the order and strike anyway.
Meanwhile, negotiations ran until 4 a.m. Saturday then reconvened in the afternoon, and at about 5 p.m., the district and union came to a tentative agreement.
Questions still remain about how districts in the region will manage projected budget shortfalls in the coming years following the approval of the multi-million dollar contracts.
For example, Battle Ground Superintendent Mark Ross has long touted the North Clark County district’s decision to pay for school nurses, psychologists and other support staff above and beyond what the state funds.
In a news release Saturday night, after the tentative agreement was reached between the union and district, Ross hinted those things may be in jeopardy in the coming years.
“While Battle Ground is not alone in its financial challenges, the district’s difficulties are certainly amplified by the inequities of new state funding,” Ross said. “Battle Ground will have to make some difficult budget decisions in the coming years to bring the district in closer alignment with the state prototypical school model.”
But for now, Battle Ground Public Schools’ teachers are looking forward, at long last, to returning to their classrooms.
Casey Richard, a fourth-grade teacher at Captain Strong Primary School, burst into tears on seeing the new salary schedule. She estimates she’ll see an $11,000 raise this year.
“It is amazing,” she said. “It’s life changing for me.”
More importantly to Richard, however, is “just seeing my kids again.”
“Just seeing them and being able to do what I love,” she said, leaving the high school to go visit her classroom.