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Ridgefield schools welcome students amid open bargaining

Teachers contract expired Aug. 31; vote to authorize strike was Monday night

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
8 Photos
Union Ridge Elementary School second-grader Eylee Klug, 7, gets a warm welcome from teachers and staff as she arrives for the first day of school Wednesday morning. Wednesday was the first day of school for the Ridgefield School District, where a divide between district administration and the teachers union looms.
Union Ridge Elementary School second-grader Eylee Klug, 7, gets a warm welcome from teachers and staff as she arrives for the first day of school Wednesday morning. Wednesday was the first day of school for the Ridgefield School District, where a divide between district administration and the teachers union looms. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — Flurries of excited students — some escorted by parents and some defiantly insisting they make an entrance on their own — descended upon Union Ridge Elementary School for their first day of school on Wednesday.

Like a cross between cheerleaders and restaurant hosts, a small army of teachers helped usher kids toward their new cohort of classmates. As students filed in to meet their new teachers, some came with school supplies and others with snacks — one in particular arrived armed with a box of goldfish nearly as big as herself, almost like an army ant carrying a leaf.

“There’s lots of excitement,” said Peggy Horne, a physical education teacher in her ninth and final year at Union Ridge. “You’ve got some tears from the kids, a lot of tears from the parents.”

“But we’re so happy you’re here!” Horne exclaimed as she opened a car door for a young student.

As parents dropped off their children, some shared a more positive outlook on the year to come, similar to how teachers in Vancouver approached their first day on Tuesday.

UPDATE

Previously: The Ridgefield Education Association authorized a strike on Monday night following another unsuccessful round of contract negotiations with district officials.

What’s new: The most recent contract for union members is set to expire at midnight Wednesday.

What’s next: The sides are set to meet for another bargaining session on Sept. 7. If a deal still cannot be reached, union members said they are likely to strike.

“I feel like they’re more comfortable, more confident,” said Megan Thornton, who had just bid farewell to her first-grader and twin third-graders. “Now that they’re recognizing their teachers and the building it makes it a little easier.”

Her husband, Matthew Thornton, added it was just about the perfect time for the kids to get out of the house, too.

“It was getting to the point where I could literally hear across the house when the twins were coming to blows with each other,” he said, laughing. “They were just kindergartners when their year got cut short in 2020, so we’re really looking forward to a ‘normal’ year for them.”

Hard-to-miss subtext

And though it was the first day for students in Ridgefield, Wednesday was also the last day of a working contract for an estimated 200 certified staff members in the district that make up the Ridgefield Education Association.

Some parents and teachers at gathered at Union Ridge expressed support for the teachers union, which has authorized a strike if they’re not able to reach a deal at their next bargaining session with district officials next week.

“I’m pro-worker. They need to go do what they need to go do,” said Noel Nickol, a newly-transplanted Ridgefielder from Kirkland who’d just seen off his second-grader Oliver. “It’s in the best interest of everyone to support students. Getting teachers what they need should be the town’s number one priority.”

Throughout negotiations, the top points of contention were the inclusion of a 5.5 percent cost of living adjustment allocation provided by the state for teachers and changes to special education caseloads and class sizes.

In their latest contract offer on Monday night — which the union rejected with 92 percent of members voting no — the Ridgefield School District extended the 5.5 percent salary boost for the first time in months of negotiation. According to the union, however, the district has yet to budge on proposed ways to alleviate overloaded caseloads for special educators, which without proper action may violate terms in Individual Education Plans and 504 Plans for some students with disabilities.

“It’s a stressful situation because if the teachers go, we go too,” said paraeducator Alicia Tisch. “But I support them 100 percent. I hope they get what they deserve, and I hope they don’t back down.”

The next bargaining session is scheduled for Wednesday, Sep. 7 and is expected to last the entire day.

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