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News / Clark County News

Evergreen, Camas teachers vote for potential strike if deal can’t be reached with districts

State mediator joined bargaining process last week in Evergreen; union represents 1,500 teachers

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 24, 2023, 10:45am

Two of Clark County’s biggest school districts — Evergreen Public Schools and the Camas School District — could see delays to the start of the school year as respective teachers unions in each district have authorized potential strikes amid stalled contract negotiations.

The Battle Ground Education Association, which represents certificated staff in Battle Ground Public Schools, has also not yet reached a deal on a new contract as of Thursday. The union has a membership meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday to determine next steps.

The set of potential work stoppages mirrors the start of the 2018 school year, where teachers unions in eight Clark County school districts went on strike seeking higher wages. Last year, teachers in the Ridgefield School District went on strike for six days at the start of the school year, advocating for similar supports as what Evergreen teachers are seeking now.

The Evergreen Education Association overwhelmingly voted Wednesday evening to authorize a strike if its bargaining team cannot reach a deal on a new contract with Evergreen Public Schools in the coming days. The teachers union is the biggest in Clark County, representing over 1,500 certificated teachers in Evergreen.

The strike authorization votes, however, do not yet guarantee that work stoppages will occur. Evergreen teachers union President Kristie Peak said the union’s bargaining team is prepared to meet every day until a deal is reached to avoid a strike. The school year starts Aug. 30, and the union’s existing contract is set to expire the following day.

Unions in Evergreen, Battle Ground and Camas are each asking their districts to implement more supports for students with special needs, allow teachers more time in their schedules to plan and consult with each other and provide competitive incentives to retain and hire more staff.

“This is a critical turning point for public education in general,” Peak said Thursday afternoon. “This is not the time to lose high-quality teachers.”

Evergreen spokesperson Craig Birnbach said Thursday that the district would continue to work with the union to reach a tentative deal. A state mediator joined the bargaining process last week.

“The district bargaining team will continue to negotiate with the union to try to reach a deal that is fair to both sides and that is affordable and sustainable,” Birnbach wrote in an email Thursday morning. “It is the goal of the district and the Board of Directors to reach a resolution with (the union) before school is scheduled to begin on Aug. 30.”

What’s on the table

Evergreen updated its bargaining updates webpage Aug. 17 to include copies of its most recent proposal on Aug. 9 and the following counter proposal from the teachers union on Aug. 14.

Evergreen’s proposed three-year contract would feature a 4.7 percent raise in the 2023-2024 school year, including what’s provided in the annual state-funded inflationary bonus, known as the implicit price deflator. The second year of the contract will feature a 0.5 percent raise in addition to the implicit price deflator; the final year staff will only receive what’s provided by the implicit price deflator. The webpage includes additional details on how teacher salaries in Evergreen compare to other Clark County districts.

Peak said Wednesday before the vote that the union’s focus in bargaining isn’t on raising wages and that the district has been avoiding addressing the union’s main priorities around special education supports.

At a board meeting in January, Evergreen Superintendent John Boyd acknowledged the challenges the district faces in implementing the “neighborhood schools model” — a state program that aims to help integrate special education students into general education classrooms more often. Boyd said the district needed to be able to provide more professional development to retain and hire staff to see the model succeed. Peak said the bargaining process so far doesn’t reflect Boyd’s January commitment.

“The district has a tendency to leap into progressive-sounding initiatives with no plan for how to put systems in place to make those systems successful. This is where we’re trying to plug those holes,” Peak said. “We know this is expensive. It takes more resources and staff than the old model. Neighborhood schools can be great for kids, but it does take resources.”

Camas Education Association President Michael Sanchez told the Camas-Washougal Post-Record on Thursday that, they too, were far from a tentative agreement.

“The district has chosen this path and the district can fix it,” Sanchez told the Post-Record. “They can agree to meeting our students’ needs and we can avoid all of this. If they don’t agree, we are forced to strike.”

Bargaining to continue

Peak said Wednesday that she felt Evergreen’s leadership wasn’t “bargaining in good faith,” questioning both the move to post full details of the contract proposals online and sending an email to all staff and parents earlier this week that warned of a “potential work stoppage” before the union had even voted to authorize a strike. A representative from the Camas School District issued a similar warning of a potential work stoppage to the Post-Record on Aug. 18.

“They have a history of putting full proposals on the website. Those aren’t things that have been agreed upon,” Peak said. “I think that’s not bargaining in good faith. This happened in 2018 and it didn’t work out well for them. We cautioned them not to do it.”

Birnbach said Thursday that the goal of the webpage updates and the message to families were each an effort to keep the stakeholders aware of how negotiations were progressing.

“As our community requested, we are being transparent in sharing information that impacts our students, staff and families,” he said. “We were receiving questions from families about the possibility of a teachers strike and felt it was important to share information so they could begin to prepare in the event of a work stoppage.”

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Bargaining in Evergreen will continue this week with the help of a state mediator. Details of the proposed contracts and day-by-day updates on mediation are available on the district’s website here: https://sites.google.com/evergreenps.org/human-resources/eea-bargaining-update.

Details on ongoing bargaining in Battle Ground can be found on the district’s website here: https://www.battlegroundps.org/bargaining-updates/.