The Evergreen Education Association began its districtwide strike Wednesday, delaying the first day of the 2023-2024 school year amid stalled contract negotiations with Evergreen Public Schools. Schools in the district will be closed again Thursday as the strike continues.
The union — the largest in the region, with 1,500 members — joined Camas as the second school district in Clark County on strike. Wednesday was Camas’ third day on strike; union leaders said there’s been no notable progress in bargaining since this past weekend. Battle Ground Public Schools opened for its first day of school despite unresolved contract issues with its own teachers union.
The decision to walk the picket line isn’t one that Evergreen staff said they wanted to make, rather one that came from unfortunate necessity.
“What we’re asking for as a union are some pretty commonsense supports. It’s frustrating for me to see those things not being accommodated,” said Anna Capacci, a special educator at Evergreen High School who’s worked in the district for 13 years.
“One of our big movements in recent years has been toward inclusion in special education and having students with (individualized education plans) participate fully,” Capacci said. “That’s a good thing to have, but they’re not providing us with the supports to make that actually meaningful.”
Other educators walking the picket line at Evergreen High School on Wednesday agreed with Capacci and said that after the COVID-19 pandemic, they had hoped district officials would better recognize the support needed for its students in an era of chaos and change.
“In the last several years, we’ve endured so much, and everyone has,” said Michael Bowersox, another Evergreen special educator picketing Wednesday. “I thought during COVID we’d come to more of a community understanding that this is hard for all of us. I’m surprised at our administration; I’m surprised at the amount of ‘us versus them’ I’m seeing.”
Clarifying salary differences
Teachers from both districts have maintained throughout the bargaining process and now during strikes this week that what they are focused on most is maintaining lower class sizes, redirecting funding for supplemental student programs like music and libraries and providing better supports for special education.
Communications from both Evergreen and Camas’ respective district offices, however, have highlighted wages. These actions, staff say, may inaccurately suggest that the heart of the conflict between the two sides is about salaries.
“Teachers really want the district to focus on the things that will help their students,” said Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe, a representative for the Evergreen Education Association. “That’s what they’re most passionate about.”
Both unions proposed contracts request inflation-based raises be allocated using the Seattle Consumer Price Index — a localized inflation calculator comparing the price of everyday goods to a year prior. Camas and Evergreen each received raises based on the Seattle Consumer Price Index in their previous contract; a representative from Camas’ union said Wednesday the parties had previously agreed the Seattle Consumer Price Index was “more logical.”
Proposals from the district offices, however, are no longer extending what’s provided by that index, rather using a different metric called the “implicit price deflator.”
The latter metric was introduced in House Bill 2242 in 2017 with the intent to fully fund basic public education “through reform of state and local education contributions.” Evergreen and Camas did not start using the implicit price deflator in contract language with their teachers unions until this year, but a representative from Evergreen said Wednesday that the district has received funding for salaries from the state using this model since 2020. The growth rate of state funding per student has exceeded both metrics for the last decade.
To compare the two inflationary metrics, the consumer price index estimates inflation at 8.9 percent for 2023-2024. The implicit price deflator is much lower, at 3.7 percent. The state continues to use the consumer price index for money allocated for educational goods and levy funding.
A representative from the Camas School District said Wednesday that continuing to offer raises based on the consumer price index is not “sustainable,” since the district’s funding from the state no longer matches it.
The change has confused union members, who feel the new metric does not effectively assess the state of everyday inflation.
“Now that (the consumer price index) looks like it’s moving higher, the district wants to switch,” said Kuramoto-Eidsmoe. “So it feels like the district is playing games and changing the deal.”
As the strikes continue in Evergreen and Camas, each district will continue middle and high school athletics as well as meal services throughout the day.
Evergreen parents can pick up breakfasts and lunches for their children at several school locations; it doesn’t need to be their child’s own school. Full details on Evergreen meal services are available on the district’s website: https://sites.google.com/evergreenps.org/strike-meals-2023/home.
The Camas School District is also providing lunch for students at Liberty Middle School and Lacamas Lake Elementary School from 11 a.m. to noon Thursday.
Unions in Evergreen, Camas and Battle Ground each continued bargaining throughout the day Wednesday.