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Dec. 3, 2022

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Evergreen Public Schools paraeducators union rejects contract offer

Members say duties have increased, they want higher wages

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

The Evergreen Public School Employees large group union rejected the most recent contract offer from Evergreen Public Schools in a membership meeting late Wednesday night. Approximately 83 percent of the union — which represents about 1,000 employees in Evergreen, about 650 of which are paraeducators — voted against the deal.

The union, also known as PSE SEIU 1948, began negotiations with the district in May and began using a state mediator in August. Throughout that time, union leaders said, the two sides have exchanged a nearly uncountable number of offers.

“At least a ream of paper has gone back and forth between us,” said Mindy Troffer-Cooper, the union’s president.

According to Troffer-Cooper, who works as a paraeducator with pre-kindergartners and kindergartners at Harmony Elementary School, the union’s main sticking point at this stage of negotiations is pay.

“Our (paraeducators) are the lowest paid in the surrounding areas,” Troffer-Cooper said. “Extremely lower than Vancouver.”

Per page 56 of the union’s 2019-2022 collective bargaining agreement, Class I paraeducators had a starting wage of $17.01 per hour and Class II paraeducators had a starting wage of $18.08 per hour in 2020-2021. Class I paraeducators include roles such as cafeteria monitors, 504 plan note-takers, one-on-one support staffers and study hall supervisors. Class II paraeducators include classroom support staffers and counseling support specialists.

In Vancouver Public Schools, general paraeducators had a starting salary of $20.63 per hour in 2021-2022, per page 68 of the Vancouver Association of Education Support Professionals’ comprehensive professional agreement.

The PSE SEIU 1948 also represents bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance service workers in addition to paraeducators. Troffer-Cooper said in the 2021-2022 school year, the district had over 300 positions that went unfilled across all the roles the union represents. Along with staffing shortages, too, she said everyone in the system is experiencing increased difficulty in dealing with young students.

“I have observed a lot of behaviors that have accelerated in the last few years, there’s a lot more aggression from students. We have a lot of kids that need de-escalation work,” Troffer-Cooper said. “The district hasn’t recognized these changes. I don’t feel like our needs are being met. Retention of employees has not been a strong point with the district.”

As bargaining continues, union members will continue to work under last year’s contract, which can be extended for up to a year. The union has not made any moves toward a call for a strike.

“We’re hoping for good community support and a quick resolution with the district,” Troffer-Cooper said. “This has gone on for months and we’d like to get this settled in a timely manner so we can focus on our students and not have this hanging over our heads.”

Evergreen officials also said they wish to reach a settlement soon.

“Evergreen Public Schools continues to bargain in good faith with our union partners with the hope of reaching a fair agreement,” the district said in a statement Thursday.

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