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Sunday, December 3, 2023
Dec. 3, 2023

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Vancouver Public Schools reaches tentative pact with unionized bus drivers, maintenance crew, others

District, Service Employees’ International Union have been bargaining since April

By , Columbian Education Reporter

After bargaining through the wee hours of the morning, Vancouver Public Schools on Thursday announced a settlement agreement with the Service Employees’ International Union, Local 925, on a three-year contract.

SEIU represents 506 bus drivers, maintenance crew, custodial workers, groundskeepers and cafeteria workers in the Vancouver school district.

Bargaining has been ongoing since April. The two sides negotiated through Wednesday night, finally settling at 6 a.m. Thursday.

“These professionals are critical to the operation of our schools,” district Superintendent Steve Webb said in a news release. “They drive our buses; cook and serve student meals; maintain our grounds, schools and equipment; and keep our students and staff members safe. They are integral members of our district and valued employees.”

The announcement comes two days after purple-clad SEIU members packed the school board meeting to urge the board to come to a contract settlement. Details of the settlement, including the cost, were not available Thursday and will be released after a ratification vote. But union leaders said the last sticking point — and the most important — was ensuring the district wouldn’t eliminate employees by contracting with third-party companies to provide services. Neighboring Evergreen Public Schools, for example, contracts with Chartwells Dining Services and ABM Janitorial Services to provide dining and janitorial services, respectively.

Judy Amituanai, a kitchen manager for Vancouver Public Schools and union vice president, said that’s critical for employees, like herself, who have worked for the district for many years and are nearing retirement.

“I’ve got eight years to work,” Amituanai said. “I don’t want to be looking for a job when I’m 60.”

Vancouver Public Schools, like other districts in the region, has faced several tough bargaining sessions with its various union-represented groups in the last year. Most notable were last year’s negotiations between the teachers and other certificated staff with the district, which resulted in a teacher strike. In January, the school district ratified a contract with its paraeducators, clerks, secretaries, technical support and other classified staff after months of bargaining.

Though Vancouver Public Schools offered no details of the cost of the contract on Thursday, the district has noted that increasing labor costs, along with declining enrollment and other factors, are straining the district budget. District budget staff say changes to the state school funding model have left it without enough revenue to keep up with the increasing costs to deliver public education, particularly in special education. The district is eyeing running a levy in February 2020 to drive additional local revenue.

For now, Amituanai is just glad that the months of bargaining have come to a close.

“Overall, this is the best negotiation we’ve ever had,” she said. “We’re happy. We’re happy overall with what we got, and I think our members will see that.”

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