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News / Clark County News

Washougal teachers contract in limbo; union says COLA is sticking point

Union asks for 5.5% cost-of-living increase, district offering 4%

By Doug Flanagan, Camas-Washougal Post-Record
Published: September 1, 2022, 12:00pm

Washougal Association of Educators members began the 2022-23 school year without a contract after failing to reach an agreement with the Washougal School District by Tuesday’s first day of school.

“(We) have not voted on any kind of work stoppage at this time,” union President James Bennett told the Post-Record on Monday. “Our focus remains on reaching a deal that includes fair pay for educators to ensure everyone with the critical job of teaching and caring for Washougal students earns enough to support themselves and their own families.”

The union members will continue to work under the terms of the previous two-year contract, which expired at the end of the 2021-22 school year, until a new agreement is reached, Bennett said.

Washougal School Superintendent Mary Templeton told the Post-Record that the district and the union have scheduled negotiation sessions this week.”

“Things are moving forward, and we’re progressing,” she said on Monday. “We’ve had much agreement on many things, and we continue to talk about a few items that we need to conclude. I anticipate that we will find a conclusion fairly quickly and move forward as a team.”

The union members are seeking a 5.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment while the district is offering a 4 percent raise, according to Bennett.

Templeton declined to confirm that the COLA issue is a sticking point in the negotiations.

The Washington State government’s 2022 supplemental budget earmarks funds to provide K-12 educators with 5.5 percent cost of living adjustments, which “are added to the amount the state provides to employers for staffing,” according to the Washington Education Association website, which states that local unions “will need to bargain to have these amounts included in their contracts.”

The COLAs are structured to help educators keep pace with long-term inflation, according to the association’s website.

Scott Rainey, a history teacher at Jemtegaard Middle School and union building representative, said the district is also declining to guarantee that the agreed-upon cost of living adjustment rate will remain in place for the 2023-34 school year.

“The state is allocating the money,” Rainey said. “Why aren’t you passing it down the line the way it’s supposed to be?”

Templeton said the district does value its teachers, pointing to the “market rate” salaries that its teachers have received in previous years.

“We had a goal and we reached that goal — we want to make sure that we were at market rate for our salaries for teachers, and we are,” she said. “In fact, they’re among the highest paid in the region. We’re proud of that, and we will continue to make sure that our teachers are valued, and that they understand that there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility for all of us in this organization because we are seeing our district rise, and that’s going to take all of us.”

The two sides’ inability to come to terms during their negotiations in 2018 led to a teachers’ strike and the cancellation of six school days before an agreement was reached.

A similar action doesn’t appear imminent this time around, however.

“In my opinion, I think that any call to strike right now would be met with a lot of resistance from the members because we haven’t had a lot of (discussion about it),” Rainey said. … “I’m a union guy through and through, and I’ll do whatever my union wants to do; but certainly that’s a real drastic move, and I don’t know that we’d have quite the community support that we did last time around.”