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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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In Our View: Learn Lessons from Strikes

Relieved that school is underway, we should all understand what happened

The Columbian

For now, we simply are pleased that students have returned to school.

Teachers in Battle Ground Public Schools on Sunday agreed to a new contract, ending a contentious period that saw picket lines throughout Clark County. At one point, teachers in six local districts were on strike, just as the school year was about to begin.

The end of labor unrest is beneficial for students, teachers, administrators and most certainly parents. While we can understand the issues that led to widespread strikes, we also recognize that teachers did not joyfully stay out of the classroom; they would rather be instructing and guiding children. Now, as schools settle into a normal routine, it is necessary to examine the chain of events that delayed the start of the academic year.

It all began with the Legislature. When the state Supreme Court delivered its McCleary v. Washington ruling in 2012, lawmakers were tasked with living up to their paramount duty under the constitution: fully funding K-12 public schools. That meant that school districts should no longer rely on local levies to pay for basics such as teacher salaries or bus transportation.

Lawmakers were given a 2018 deadline to meet that mandate, and they pushed that deadline to the limit. The lesson, as anybody who procrastinates in their homework eventually learns: Do not save big projects until the last minute. Instead, the Legislature waited until this year’s session to fully fund teacher salaries, adding $1 billion in funding.

That left teachers unions and school administrators to argue over the meaning of the Legislature’s action and how that money should be disbursed. It also left school officials to question how raises now will impact future district budgets. Had the Legislature addressed the issue several years ago and phased in money for salaries, many of the disputes could have been avoided.

In Battle Ground, the final agreement provides new teachers who have no experience with a salary of $48,593, while the most experienced and educated teachers can earn up to $93,371. In Evergreen Public Schools, to use another example, the new salary range is between $51,619 and $98,279 this year.

Battle Ground schools were the last in the region to reach an agreement, and enmity during negotiations reached disturbing levels. On Friday, a Clark County Superior Court judge granted an injunction sought by district officials, ordering teachers back to the classroom. Teachers voted in favor of ignoring that order, but a contract agreement was reached before defiance was necessary. The plan to ignore the court order might have been a negotiating ploy, but we’re glad teachers’ resolve was not tested; defying a court order would have been indefensible while providing a poor lesson for students about respect for the law.

As students return to class, it is important for parents to provide some clarity for their children. Teachers did not go on strike because they do not want to teach; they were seeking raises to better provide for their families, just like other parents. Meanwhile, students also should understand that public schools are funded by taxpayers, and those taxpayers have an interest in providing for their families, as well.

That delicate balancing act led to a difficult time for everybody who has an interest in public schools and the education of our children — which means all of us. While some hard feelings are likely to linger and will take time to sort out, for now we are pleased that teachers and students are back in the classroom.