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Monday, March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024

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Ridgefield schools to be closed again Thursday, bargaining continues

Union leaders passed a vote of no confidence against district administrators on Wednesday

By , Columbian staff writer

Schools in Ridgefield will again be closed Thursday, marking the fifth day of a teacher strike amid stalled contract negotiations between the Ridgefield Education Association and the Ridgefield School District. Schools have now been closed since Friday.

Union leadership ramped up their rhetoric of frustration with district administration on Wednesday afternoon, announcing that they had passed a vote of “no confidence” against Ridgefield Superintendent Nathan McCann, Assistant Superintendent Chris Griffith and Executive Director of Student Services Michael Baskette.

“After the last two years of uncertainty and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unacceptable that RSD does not understand the toll that has taken on our students and educators,” the union said in the release. “The district’s dysfunctional student intervention program is not working for students or educators. Interventions should be driven by identified student need. The district continues to resist efforts to ensure better outcomes for students. We need to utilize teachers’ professional judgment to provide supports, interventions and enrichment.”

Bargaining continued at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday without a set ending time. “Negotiations will continue until either a deal is struck or the sides agree there’s no momentum left today,” said district spokesperson Joe Vajgrt.

The two sides met with a state mediator for much of the day on Tuesday, both before and after the 5 p.m. board of directors meeting at the district office. Teachers and community members continued picketing outside school buildings starting early in the morning, culminating with a rally outside the district office that then spilled into the board meeting.

A majority of speakers during the meeting’s public comment section expressed support for the teachers union, referencing increased needs for special education students and urging the school board to get more involved in the bargaining process.

“Come to the table, help us solve this so we can get back to work,” said union co-president Elizabeth Stamp, directly addressing the school board.

Other speakers expressed frustration at the situation as a whole on behalf of their children, mentioning that this school year had the potential to be the first fully uninterrupted “normal” school year for Ridgefield since 2019.

The district added another updated packaged proposal to its bargaining updates webpage on Tuesday evening — it appears the union has now taken steps toward what the district had intended for special education class sizes and caseloads for the current school year. The union, however, requests that these capacities be further reduced by the 2024-2025 school year — the final year of the contract in question — while the district is proposing to keep them relatively the same over that time frame. Details on the negotiated class sizes and caseloads can be found on Page 45 of the most recent proposal.

As the strike continues, schools will remain closed and meal services will be suspended. Middle and high school athletics will continue as scheduled. Students who attend Cascadia Tech Academy will attend their classes as scheduled, and will be able to take the bus to and from school at their usual location.

As tentative deals on certificated staff contracts have been reached in both Seattle and Kent in the last week, Ridgefield is now one of few districts in the state still in open bargaining. Teachers have now been without a contract since Sept. 1, the second day of the school year.