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Dec. 13, 2019

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Vancouver school district, union dig in on contract dispute

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: January 16, 2019, 4:29pm

Vancouver Public Schools Wednesday stood by its denial that the district has canceled or otherwise withdrawn from its tentative agreement with its support staff union.

At an informational membership meeting Tuesday night, the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals told its members that the district had canceled a tentative deal with the union. The union was supposed to ratify the contract next week, but now it’s unclear whether members will take any action now. Union members previously voted to take a strike vote if no deal is reached by Feb. 1.

Vancouver Public Schools announced on Dec. 21 that the two sides had come to an agreement, and said it did not learn of the union’s assertion that anything had changed until contacted by The Columbian on Tuesday.

“The district absolutely has not withdrawn from the tentative agreement,” district officials reiterated in the Wednesday news release.

Lynn Davidson with the regional office of the Washington Education Association accused the district of releasing information prematurely and said that union discussions with the district since Dec. 21 have rendered any tentative agreement null and void.

“The comments they’ve made since the (announced) tentative agreement have been detrimental to the bargain and the membership,” Davidson said.

Offer detailed

The district also offered more details of what exactly the tentative agreement entails, including what it projects would include average raises for the 2018-19 school year of 10.2 percent over members’ 2017-2018 salaries, and another 2 percent raise in the 2019-2020 school year. Both the union and district had previously agreed to remain mum on details until the contract was ratified.

The contract is expected to cost an additional $3 million per year, according to the district.

But Davidson said the district’s offer includes an already given 1.9 percent inflationary increase approved by the Legislature, effectively reducing the amount of money the district is offering the union. The union is seeking additional salary increases on top of those inflationary percentages, and Davidson said members won’t vote on a plan that already includes that money.

“They inserted language we hadn’t agreed to and refused to take that language out,” Davidson said. “So we don’t have something we can give to our members.”

Expenditures are expected to total about $324 million this school year, according to district budget documents filed with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Salaries for classified staff, including VAESP members, make up about $56.2 million of that.

The VAESP represents more than 700 paraeducators, secretaries, clerks and other classified staff members. Those employees are paid between $16.53 an hour and $25.32 an hour, depending on their position and years of experience. Many are paid for six hours of work per day, nine months out of the year. Union leadership estimates the average VAESP member’s salary is about $20,000 a year.

The union and district are slated to meet with a state-appointed mediator on Tuesday, and has a general membership meeting also scheduled that evening.

That same night, Vancouver’s board of directors will discuss an estimated $11.4 million budget deficit in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The district has pointed out labor contracts with VAESP and the Vancouver Education Association, which represents teachers and other certificated employees, as partly to blame for the deficit. Superintendent Steve Webb is expected to announced proposed cuts to central administrative offices that evening.

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