The Evergreen Education Association will strike Wednesday, closing schools on what was scheduled to be the first day of the school year.
The teachers union — the largest in Southwest Washington — is now the second union leading a strike in Clark County. The Camas Education Association continued its strike Tuesday; schools in the Camas School District will be closed again Wednesday.
Battle Ground Public Schools will be open Wednesday for the first day of school despite not yet reaching a deal with the Battle Ground Education Association. The union voted not to strike Tuesday evening but will return to the bargaining table Wednesday to continue seeking a deal on a new contract.
Evergreen Superintendent John Boyd sent home letters to staff and families Tuesday evening alerting them of the strike and Wednesday’s closures.
“I know this is a challenging circumstance for all of us in the district and especially our families,” Boyd said in a message sent to staff. “As we go through this process, please keep in mind that after this work stoppage ends, we will need to come back together as a unified team. Our teachers will remain the valued, treasured part of our district that they have always been. With this in mind, I ask that we all behave in the respectful, mature manner that we want our students to emulate even as we go through these difficult negotiations.”
Evergreen teachers prepared for the strike Tuesday evening with a rally and sign-making event, where union members shared sentiments about the ongoing negotiations and planned how picketing would begin in the morning. Evergreen teachers, much like those in Camas, say the district has not been receptive to their requests for increased supports to special education programs, maintenance of smaller class sizes and strategies to help relieve staffing shortages.
“We are the teachers and counselors. We are in the classrooms and we know what the issues are that affect our students and staff more than anybody,” said Shawn Gundert, a teacher at the rally Tuesday evening. “The big disconnect (with district administration) comes from in part that they don’t have that experience each day. They don’t see the pressing issues our students face. I believe they care about schools but, given the jobs they have, it becomes more of a bottom line.”
Camas remains on strike
In Camas, bargaining continued at 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Though schools will be closed Wednesday, a union representative said Tuesday evening that bargaining has not yet concluded for the day.
Proposals from each side – the union’s latest proposal is dated Aug. 27 – show the two sides are in disagreement for smaller class sizes for its youngest students. Camas has proposed a kindergarten cap of 22 students; the union is seeking a cap of 18.
The union’s latest proposal does not request a raise to base salary in excess of what’s provided by the state’s annual inflationary factor. In a statement Sunday, the district claimed the union had requested “higher than previously requested salary increases” in its latest proposal.
A statement from the district Tuesday afternoon said a disconnect between the two sides stems from their usage of two different inflation calculators; the district’s preferred option would extend staff an inflation-based raise of 3.7 percent in the first year of the contract in addition to the 2 percent raise it is offering.
“When (the union) indicates they are not asking for a raise, they are assuming that (the consumer price index) would continue to be used. When a contract is in a full opening, all items are negotiable,” said Doreen McKercher, a spokesperson from the district Tuesday. “Our district wants to use (the implicit price deflator) since that is the funding mechanism the state uses for funding increases.”
The implicit price deflator is what other districts in the region have used in other union contracts, including Evergreen Public Schools in its deal last fall with its paraeducators union.
What to expect Wednesday
While schools will be closed in Evergreen and Camas, there are still some services available to families.
In Evergreen, middle and high school athletics will continue. The district said Tuesday evening that free breakfast and lunch will be available for curbside pickup throughout the potential duration of the strike. Breakfast will be available from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; families will not need to have students enrolled at a specific school location in order to receive a meal. Full details on where to pick up meals and other information regarding labor negotiations can be found on the district’s website.
Middle and high school athletics will also resume in Camas. Lunch will be served at Liberty Middle School and Lacamas Lake Elementary School from 11 a.m. to noon Wednesday.
Though Battle Ground schools will remain open, union leaders said Tuesday they were still frustrated with the state of ongoing negotiations with the district.
“(Battle Ground Public Schools) continues to decline offers to speak about issues educators would like to see addressed, such as class size, staffing and workload,” a statement from the union read. “The time is now.”