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Monday, December 4, 2023
Dec. 4, 2023

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Ridgefield teachers to be present for first day, despite strike authorization vote

Next bargaining session scheduled for Sept. 7

By , Columbian staff writer

Despite authorizing a potential strike Monday night, Ridgefield teachers said they will be in the classroom for the first day of school this morning.

Ridgefield Education Association co-president Elizabeth Stamp said that the union will wait until its next scheduled bargaining session on Sept. 7 to decide whether to walk out. She said teachers wanted to limit interruptions at the start of the year and, for many new union members, certain benefits wouldn’t activate if they weren’t present on the first day.

“We don’t want to interrupt the school year, but we will. And we feel like we have community support,” Stamp said Tuesday morning. “Now we need to hold their feet to the fire. The ball is literally in their court.”

Ridgefield certified staff will begin working without a contract. Their previous contract expires at midnight Wednesday.

Among the union’s biggest asks from the district was for it to extend the full 5.5 percent cost of living adjustment allotment from the state: a salary boost intended to be given to teachers to address rises in inflation and housing costs in Washington in recent years.

The latest offer from the Ridgefield School District on Monday evening included that 5.5 percent raise, an act that Stamp said was the first time it had been offered after months of negotiations. Even so, the union rejected the offer, with 92 percent voting against it. What’s still missing, they said, is requested language to ensure that all other state-provided funding directly intended for teachers throughout the duration of the contract continue to go directly to teachers.

“We need to get the language in there that everything that comes from the state that’s intended for us can just go to us so we don’t have to keep bargaining,” Stamp said. “We shouldn’t have to keep fighting for something that’s literally intended for us.”

Kari Van Nostran, the president of the Vancouver Education Association, said she and her union members had worked with Vancouver Public Schools to include similar language going forward, as have other unions in the region.

Stamp also said the district has yet to properly address concerns about class sizes and caseload caps for special education teachers. In many cases, the union said, not being able to provide students with disabilities their own one-on-one special educator is a violation of their Individual Education Plan or 504 Plan — an issue that was also raised last fall by special education staffers in Vancouver.

Ridgefield officials on Tuesday afternoon said they remain committed to reaching a deal at their next meeting.

“We really do want to come to a fair agreement that compensates teachers fairly,” said district spokesperson Joe Vajgrt. “We’ll continue negotiating with that interest in mind.”

If a deal is not reached during the Sept. 7 bargaining meeting, Stamp said the union may then move to an actual strike. In the coming days, they hope to hold community meetings to connect with families and parents so they may fully understand what they’re seeking from the district.

“If Ridgefield doesn’t get competitive, they’re going to lose teachers to other districts,” Stamp said. “And that doesn’t have to happen.”

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